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Office of the Ombudsman Mid-Year Report highlights 87 new complaints

Photo: Major (Ret’d) H. Gilbert Swaso, Ombudsman of Belize

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 30, 2023

The Office of the Ombudsman, after a two-year hiatus during which no one held the Ombudsman post, has released a mid-year report that covers the period from February of this year (when the office resumed operations following the appointment of Hon. Major (Ret’d) H. Gilbert Swaso), to the end of June 2023, and the report notes that 87 complaints have been filed.

The new Ombudsman reported that there were only two working employees present at the time of the reopening of the Office, as the services of the other members of staff had been terminated or they had resigned. Seven new employees were thus hired, including a Legal Officer, Investigator, Records and Research Officer, and Secretary.

The report further indicates that the Office received and recorded 87 new complaints which included issues of corruption, injustice, wrongdoing, injury, and abuse. Of the 87 new complaints received, 36 complaints have been closed, 32 are under investigation, and details are being awaited for the handling of the other 19. Eighty-two of the complaints were made against government entities while 5 were against private individuals.

In terms of region, of the 87 complaints, 61 came from the Belize District, 17 from Cayo, 5 from Dangriga, 3 from Orange Walk, and 1 from Corozal.

And where gender is concerned, 55 of the 87 complaints so far this year were by males and 30 by females, (1 was by a body incorporated under the laws of Belize and 1 was an organization). This was a significant change from the previous trend where a majority of complaints were by females. The Mid-Year Report explained that in 2023, unlike in previous years, the Office made itself available to the prison population, so incarcerated male individuals, who would otherwise have had their complaints made by their female counterparts or relatives, have now been given the opportunity to file their own complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Beyond the report’s statistics, the Ombudsman, Hon. Major (Ret’d) H. Gilbert Swaso, highlighted his staff’s participation in key training and consultation sessions. The Office is also actively exploring its role in the proposed National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) of Belize and the anticipated United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

To enhance accessibility, the Office has also engaged in outreach initiatives, partnering with the Justice of the Peace (JP) Association and local mayors. This collaboration is aimed at enabling potential complainants to lodge complaints more easily within their municipalities. Moreover, the Office has introduced a dedicated WhatsApp service, thus providing another channel for complainants to reach out.