Thursday, March 22, 2012

Starving the watchdog II

The Government Administration Committee released its financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen [PDF] today, highlighting the systematic underfunding of this crucial watchdog. But in addition to the previously reported comments about caseload, they also have further revelations of the effects of this underfunding:

Because of a lack of resources the office cannot at present publish its case notes or the Ombudsmen Quarterly Review.
...which means that there is no recent guidance for requestors or agencies on requests, meaning the same issues get litigated again and again. But there's also this:
We were also concerned to hear that there had been no movement in staff salaries since 2007. The committee was advised that the current staff turnover was high for the office, which is losing staff to agencies that offer better salaries.
No pay rise for five years for ordinary staff (but comparing the 2007 and 2011 annual reports, the number of staff paid more than $100,000 has doubled). Meanwhile, Backbench MPs have seen their salaries rise by 12.3% in that period, and the Ministers the Ombudsman's Office is supposed to scrutinise by 10.6%. It speaks volumes about what politicians care about.

The Ombudsman's budget will apparently be considered today at a meeting of the Officers of Parliament Committee. Hopefully they'll push strongly for an increase to cope with that workload. If not, I think we can only take it as politicians deliberately undermine this crucial watchdog.