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June 08, 2011

‘Sharpening your teeth' training course in Vienna from 5th to 8th June 2011

The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) is a worldwide organization established in 1978 for the purpose of cooperation between the institutions and to develop common understanding of Ombudsman.  The IOI’s current membership stands at over 150 from 80 countries.  Since its inception, the IOI’s headquarters were based in Edmonton, Canada but in 2009, the IOI members decided unanimously to relocate it to Vienna, Austria.  It was there that our investigating officer Karen Calamaro attended a course hosted by the IOI and delivered by the Ombudsman of Ontario André Marin and his deputy Barbara Finlay.  The course was held between the 5th and 8th June 2011 and named ‘Sharpening Your Teeth’ the brainchild of Mr Marin resulted from his experience in conducting systemic administrative investigations.  Because Ombudsmen do not have executive powers only powers of persuasion for the implementation of their recommendations, they are at times compared to toothless tigers, hence the title given to the course, Sharpening Your Teeth. 

37 participants from 23 countries amongst which were Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Netherlands, Cyprus, Romania, Uganda, Serbia, Slovenia, Ireland, etc. attended.  The diversity of institutions represented in the course provided the opportunity for views and practices to be discussed and new contacts to be made.

The content of the course dealt with conducting effective and efficient systemic investigations.  The first step is to identify when an issue is systemic, i.e. that it has the potential to affect large numbers of people and is not easily resolved.  A template has been designed to assist in the process of identification.  Once this has been carried out, the Ontario Ombudsman’s course of action is to get together a Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), a dedicated team dealing solely with the systemic complaint which operates with a sense of urgency and aims to complete an investigation as quickly as possible.    Insight into how SORT operates was provided.  The way they approach the complaint, their evidence based assessments and methodical approach. 

A number of case studies were reviewed during the course, high profile systemic investigations which the Ontario Ombudsman’s office had conducted and which fascinated the majority of the participants.  To mention just two of the cases, one was a complaint against the Ministry of Health and the investigation undertaken with regards to the long term care decision making concerning the funding of ‘Avastin’ for colorectal cancer patients.  The other was an investigation into the decision taken by the Ontario Government to expand police powers during the meeting of G20 dignitaries.

I.O.I. Secretary General and Chair of the Austrian Ombudsman         Our Investigating Officer, Karen Calamaro in the training course
Peter Kostelka addressing the participants
Topics covered during the course were effective interviewing, retrieving of relevant documentation, dealing with whistleblowers, assessing evidence and report writing.  In this regard, the Ontario Ombudsman has developed a mechanism in which the report is divided into four parts:

Issue:               A statement setting out the complaint/issue.

Rule:                An introduction of the rule or criteria for decision making.

Analysis:         Narration of the findings of the investigation in relation to how the rule fits the material facts.

Conclusion:     Ombudsman’s decision based on the analysis.

The aim of the report being to write simply, clearly and using precise language in order to communicate effectively with the reader.

All in all, a valuable experience which will undoubtedly benefit members of the public who seek assistance at the Gibraltar Public Services Ombudsman’s Office.