The Office of the Ombudsman in Samoa was established under the Komesina o Sulufaiga (Ombudsman) Act 1988 with just a conventional Ombudsman function. The Ombudsman (Komesina o Sulufaiga) Act 2013, enacted on 6 June 2013, expanded the mandate to include the National Human Rights Institution of Samoa (NHRI), as well as a Special Investigation Unit (SIU) mandate to independently monitor, and where necessary investigate the exercise of coercive powers by the Police and any other designated disciplined force
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of Parliament, appointed by the Head of State on the recommendation of Parliament for a term of 6 years and; is eligible for reappointment; and on expiry of the term, continues in office until reappointed or a successor takes the oath of office; pursuant to the selection processes and criteria set out in Schedule 3 of the Ombudsman Act 2013. There have been three Ombudsmen since the Office was established:
The three Ombudsmen appointees have had very distinguished careers in public life. Prof Richardson was the first Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman; Vaovasamanaia Phillips was a former Chief Justice and well known member of Parliament (Cabinet Minister); Maiava Iulai Toma has held senior government and diplomatic positions including Secretary to Government and Samoa’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States of America.
Relationship to Government & Parliament
The Ombudsman is an independent Officer of Parliament and is independent of the Executive government and must independently carry out the functions, duties and powers under the Act; and when carrying out the functions, duties and powers is not subject to a direction or influenced by a person, office holder or authority. He must not become a Member of Parliament while in Office or without the approval of the Speaker in each particular case, hold any other office or employment or engage in any activity or practice that may in any way conflict with the Ombudsman’s actual or perceived independence or impartiality. The Ombudsman may, in writing to the Head of State, resign from Office.
Without affecting other reporting provisions in this Act, the Ombudsman must in each year, prepare an Annual report setting out the operations and financial matters of the Ombudsman for the preceding year. The Ombudsman must send the Annual report to the Speaker for tabling in parliament under its Standing Orders.
Public sector agencies are protective of turf and status and tend thereby to be confrontational in their relations with each other. The Ombudsman is sometimes conscious of difficulties of this nature in dealings with public agencies.
It has to be appreciated that the Ombudsman does not get involved in issues he takes up for his own personal or institutional gratification. The functions and powers of the Ombudsman are given to him to be exercised in the right of the citizen who otherwise would be relatively powerless against a governmental agency with which that citizen may take issue on matters of importance to him.
The Ombudsman is not an advocate for a complainant but a neutral entity which endeavours to form opinions, after the investigation of complaints, based on criteria of reasonableness and fairness. Where the agency is considered to be right in any matter the Ombudsman must be equally forthright in declaring it as he would were the opposite to be the case.
Greater understanding will emerge only slowly as long as the Office of the Ombudsman is perceived as it tends to be viewed by almost everyone in authority as just another government department competing with others for resources and in the exercise of power. The Ombudsman is not interested in any power games, either with the agencies of Government or with regard to the general public. Unlike these agencies, the Ombudsman does not exercise any executive power or have any part to play in the formulation and implementation of the Executive Government’s programme of activities that may dispense or withhold benefits etc. from the citizenry. It is not mandated like other agencies to carry out a particular service for which the Executive Government has a responsibility to provide.
When the Office was first established in 1989 under the Ombudsman Act 1989, it only looked into good governance matters / issues. The traditional Ombudsman is a good governance mechanism created simply to put at the disposal of the people the special powers entrusted to the Ombudsman to scrutinize, from a position of independence and neutrality, the workings of the Executive Government in light of legitimate concerns of members of the public who may be affected in their personal capacities by the activities of Government. The Ombudsman’s objective is to form an opinion on the reasonableness of official action or inaction brought to his attention and to recommend remedial action where appropriate.
In proper perspective and on the assumption that it is the Executive’s intention in the first place to implement its various agendas fairly and justly, the Ombudsman is not a foe to be circumvented but a neutral observer who would look independently at “questionable” situations that arise, for fair and reasonable resolution.
On the 30 of May 2013, Parliament passed the Ombudsman (Komesina O Sulufaiga) Act 2013, to include human rights as part of the functions of the Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman now functions as the National Human Rights Institution of Samoa. Thus, the Office of the Ombudsman is working towards a State underpinned by integrity and fairness in governance and built on a foundation of human rights, reflected in every law passed, every case heard and every administrative decision made at every level.
In addition to human rights, the Special Investigations Unit was also set up for the purposes of: (a) receiving, investigating and determining any complaints about a police officer, prison officer or officer of other prescribed disciplined force; and (b) carrying out any other functions, duties or powers under any other Act or as are prescribed by regulations.