Details about confidential complaints submitted to the Ombudsman found their way into a report published by Mario Cutajar, the government’s top civil servant within the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ombudsman’s annual report reveals.

The Ombudsman said those submitting complaints to his office did so on the understanding that their identity and the nature of their grievance would be protected from “undue and unwanted publicity”.

Minimal information about complaints was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office by the Ombudsman for the purpose of keeping the public administration abreast of the status of investigations.

In some instances, information published by the Principal Permanent Secretary went beyond the information the Ombudsman had given to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ombudsman said in his 2018 annual report.

The document published last November by the Principal Permanent Secretary, titled ‘Governance’, gave a breakdown on the action taken by the public administration on points raised in the Ombudsman’s 2017 annual report.

Privacy and strict confidentiality imposed by law are considered to be essential components

This ‘governance’ document contained data of a “personal nature”, with specific information on complaints and the progress of the Ombudsman’s investigations into these complaints, the Ombudsman’s latest annual report says.

“Privacy and strict confidentiality imposed by law are considered to be essential components and requisites of the investigative process”, the Ombudsman’s report lamented in reaction to the publication of this personal data.

The Ombudsman’s office said information was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office within the constraints imposed by data protection and on the understanding that such investigations are carried out away from the public eye.

Questions sent to the Principal Permanent Secretary were unanswered by the time of writing.

According to the Ombudsman, the only significant personal data not included in the report published by the country’s top civil servant are the age and address of complainants and their ID numbers.

The Ombudsman said in some instances, because of details that found their way into the Principal Permanent Secretary report, there is enough data to enable interested parties to identify the persons submitting the complaint.

No prior notice was given to the Ombudsman about the publication of this personal information, the report continues.

“One hopes that in the future such an exercise, that marred an otherwise positive initiative, would be reviewed and also radically revised,” the Ombudsman concludes.