Historic meeting of Regional integrity agency heads
About 40 ombudsmen or their equivalents and other colleagues from around the Asia–Pacific met in Canberra, Australia last week to promote international engagement, liaison and best practice in the pursuit of good governance within our region.
The Australian Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman hosted the important event—the 1st general meeting of the Pacific Ombudsman Alliance (POA) and the 25th anniversary conference of the Australasian and Pacific Ombudsman Region (APOR).
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, explained that POA and APOR provided forums for cooperation between ombudsman offices in Australia and the Pacific and for development of government complaint handling in the region.
‘As a group, we are committed to sharing our experiences in handling complaints about government agencies, fostering good public administration and developing a network of ombudsmen that is self-supporting and ultimately self-sustaining,’ Mr Brent said.
‘We meet annually and collaborate regularly with ombudsman offices in neighbouring countries on investigations, training, staff exchanges, publications, managing rising complaint numbers and developing new and specialist functions.’
The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr Bob McMullan, emphasised to the group of ombudsmen and representatives from allied bodies the importance of improving public governance and strengthening accountability.
Mr McMullan said that good administrative frameworks provided benefits for whole societies. He suggested, for example, that countries with such frameworks suffered less damage from harmful occurrences, even those over which they had no control, such as natural disasters.
Key discussions at the historic two–day gathering covered access to information, integrity frameworks, accountability tools, and new functions, such as the anti-corruption role played by ombudsmen in some countries. Outcomes included agreement to:
- continue support for a non-legislative complaint-handling scheme being trialed in Niue with assistance from New Zealand (NZ)
- support the new nominee Ombudsman in Palau by providing training and advice
- partner a volunteer in the Australian Youth Ambassadors Development scheme to undertake a one-year placement in the Vanuatu Ombudsman’s office
- find ways to legally share information where there has been cross-border corruption
- develop and deliver specific training on basic forensic accounting for investigations, with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Ombudsman Commission to take the lead.
A new POA Board was elected: Mr Brent (Chair); Ms Janet Maki, Cook Islands Ombudsman; Ms Beverley Wakem, NZ Chief Ombudsman; Mr Bruce Barbour, NSW Ombudsman; Mr Chronox Manek, PNG Chief Ombudsman; and Ms Wiriki Tooma, Secretary to the Kiribati Cabinet and representative on the Board of Non-Ombudsman Small Island States.
Ms Wakem was re-elected as APOR’s Regional Vice President to the International Ombudsman Institute; Mr Manek and Hong Kong Ombudsman Mr Alan Lai were re-elected also as regional representatives to the Institute.
Meeting delegates came from Australia (Commonwealth and state ombudsmen), Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Hong Kong, Kiribati, NZ, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Timore Leste, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The event coincided with the Government’s announcement to provide more than $10 million over two years to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to continue its work in the region.
Media contact: Fiona Skivington, Director Public Affairs 0408 861 803
Date of release: 23 March 2010