Civic Monitoring of the Office of the Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is the most important independent state institution charged with the task to promote, protect and advance the human rights of the citizens in the Republic of Macedonia.
Having that in mind, the NGO Info-center, in cooperation with the Helsinki Committee of Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, under the auspices of the Project “Civic Monitoring of the Office of the Ombudsman, has conducted continuous monitoring of the work of the Ombudsman since December 2016.
The main focus of this 3rd Report is the functioning of the regional offices of the Ombudsman in Strumica, Bitola, Stip, Kumanovo, Kicevo and Tetovo, and the perception of journalists and civic activists about the openness, accessibility and efficiency of this independent institution.
For the purposes of preparation of this report, we conducted interviews with the deputies of the Ombudsman situated in the regional offices, and we also organized six focus groups with journalists and civic activists from Skopje, Bitola, Strumica, Tetovo and Stip.
The Ombudsman is perceived as a transparent and open institution by citizens, civic activists and journalists. However, past experience indicates that the citizens are note well informed about the scope of Ombudsman’s competences and its role in the protection of human rights and freedoms.
The citizens are not quite convinced that the recommendations and comments of the Ombudsman have the strength to force the state institutions to end the noted discriminatory practices and violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms. They object to the Ombudsman’s perceived leniency towards the former government, but conclude that, over the last two to three years, it has improved its functioning as protector of rights of citizens.
Journalists and activists believe that the Ombudsman, if it wishes to strengthen its reputation and efficiency, needs to be free and resistant to any political influence, to have at its disposal an independent budget and to be properly staffed. The Ombudsman also needs to be constantly in the field, be uncompromising and determined, and react quickly and decisively to all violations of rights and freedoms of citizens by the state institutions.
Journalists and activists recommend that the Ombudsman should enhance and improve its relations with the public through a long-term communication strategy, more frequent and meaningful public appearances, appointment of a spokesperson, decentralization of communication with the press on the local level, regular use of new media and social networks (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), and additional training and upgrading of communication skills of its employees.
There is a high level of dependence of regional offices on the main office in Skopje, not only from the point of view of representation in the media, but from the aspect of their initiative to take action. The absence of more frequent and regular direct meetings with the Ombudsman and the staff of the main office in Skopje results in a feeling in regional offices of isolation and insufficient knowledge about the key trends in the work and operation of the institution.
The dependence on the main office in Skopje may be one of the chief reasons why the deputies and the regional offices are not as recognizable and proactive in terms of building trust with the local population. The inability of regional offices to process cases in so-called specialized areas, such as rights of the child, non-discrimination, prevention of torture, further enhances the citizens’ perception that the Ombudsman personally and his office in Skopje have exclusive competences to protect their rights.
Regional offices are understaffed, both in terms of number of employees and in terms of necessary expertise and qualifications. That problem needs to be overcome as soon as possible and new methods to improve their independence and autonomy need to be identified. The possibility should be considered to provide training for the staff to receive and review cases in specialized areas (rights of the child, non-discrimination).
Regional offices are dissatisfied with the implementation of their recommendations by the institutions, primarily by the Ministry of the Interior, the local administration, the Cadaster Agency, the social welfare centers. On the other hand, the majority of submissions filed by citizens on local level refer to the areas of consumer rights and the work of the judiciary.