New Ombudsman

A new ombudsman will be announced when Parliament sits on November 8. The country has been without an ombudsman for nearly a year now, after former ombudsman Janet Maki resigned in early December for personal reasons. Since then assistant ombudsman Jeannine Daniel has been managing the Nikao office, although there is no acting ombudsman.

The prime minister is responsible for appointing an ombudsman. Cook Islands News was told in April by the prime minister’s office that Prime Minister Puna would be making an appointment within the week. However, this did not happen. The Ombudsman Act 1984 stipulates that a vacant ombudsman position should be filled if Parliament is in session. The prime minister’s spokesman Trevor Pitt says an announcement about the ombudsman will be made at the start of parliament’s session next week. He would not reveal a name, indicating “processes” must be followed. The Office of the Ombudsman was aware they are getting a new head, but are also in the dark about who it is.

The role of the ombudsman is to represent the public by investigating and addressing complaints about government business. When the ombudsman was legislated into existence in 1984, his or her jurisdiction was limited to investigating complaints about central government departments and organisations. In 2007, Cabinet appointed the ombudsman to be “in charge of the Cook Islands Human Rights Office”.

Then, in 2009 the Official Information Act came into force, which authorises the ombudsman to investigate and review complaints from the public about government’s withholding of official information.

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