Zuma launches African Ombudsman Research Centre

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday launched the African Ombudsman Research Centre in Durban, saying that ombudspersons have an important role to play in entrenching a culture of accountable governance and in strengthening democratic institutions in the continent.

"We need to encourage countries that have not established these important institutions to do so. The role of these institutions is to serve as an avenue through which citizens exercise their rights and hold their governments accountable. It is also to forge close relations between those entrusted with power and the governed," said Zuma.

He said this was an enormous responsibility and it should be undertaken with prudence, diligence and care.

The ombudspersons were a powerful relief mechanism for the poor which is why they should be accessible to all, said Zuma.

He added that they must not only hold powerful people in society accountable, but also prioritise taking up cases that directly affect ordinary citizens. 

"It is through holding the powerful accountable, and assisting the powerless that offices of ombudspersons will gain support from ordinary citizens," said the President.

He welcomed the fact that plans were underway to formalise relations between the African Union Commission and this Association of African Ombudspersons, saying a closer working relationship between the two organisations would ensure that their work and influence reached every corner of the continent. 

"We hope that these relations will extend to other progressive and important African bodies such as the Pan African Parliament and the African Human Rights Commission," he said.

Based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Howard College campus in Durban, the centre is a resource of the African Ombudsman and Mediators' Association (AOMA) - a body made up of 36 ombudsman institutions that work to entrench good governance in governments, upholding of the rule of law and respect for human rights in the continent. 

This is achieved through supporting, developing and protecting the independence of ombudsman institutions. 

Speaking at the same event, African Ombudsman and Mediators Association
Executive Secretary and Public Protector of South Africa, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, said it was important for government not to see ombudsman institutions as adversaries.

"These institutions serve as buffers between states and citizens. They are the conscience of states and a voice for the ordinary people," she said.

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