Introduction
 

Over the years, the Office of The Ombudsman has received many complaints which involve not so much the action or inaction of the complainee organisations per se, but rather the perception that they were not conducting their businesses in a reasonable, fair or courteous manner. With the rise in the public's aspirations and expectations of public services delivery, administrative fairness is amongst one of the most important reform efforts in the public administration.

As enshrined in our Mission and Vision, administrative fairness is an important quality the Office of The Ombudsman looks for in examining grievances arising from maladministration. One basic question often asked is whether the policy or procedure of an organisation is fair and reasonable. The Office of The Ombudsman has developed this Administrative Fairness Checklist which is by no means exhaustive. It forms a rational basis for agreeing on such standards between public authorities and this Office for fair, consistent and rational assessment of the public administration.

 
Serving the Public
 
1. Access to Information
 

Unless provided to the contrary by law or the Code on Access to Information, is the public's right for access to Government information fully recognised and their requests for such information facilitated? If access is prohibited by law, is the public given an explanation and is that explanation written in plain language?

 
2. Correspondence with the Public
 

Is correspondence from the public duly acknowledged, and an interim reply sent within a reasonable period pending a substantive reply? Is correspondence with the public written in a plain language, and in a format that is easily understandable?

 
3. Enquiries
 

Is there sufficient information available, in the form of booklets, leaflets, or pamphlets to fill the public well with basic information that they may desire? Is the role of the department, its procedures, powers and jurisdiction adequately explained in such publications vis-a-vis the public's obligation, entitlements, benefits, eligibility criteria and other options available? What arrangements are available to people with special needs such as seniors, the illiterate, and the disabled?

 
4. Forms
 
Is the purpose of each form clear? Do the questions asked conflict with the Bills of Right? Is the form written in plain language and easy to understand? Are individuals provided with copies of all forms and statements signed by them, if they do not have the opportunity to make copies themselves? Is it permissible for someone to assist a person in making out an application? If not, what assistance is available to help those who have genuine difficulties?
 

5. Courtesy

 
Are all people treated with courtesy and respect? Do we admit our mistakes responsibly and frankly? Are apologies given where they are due?
 

Communication and Reception

 

6. Telephone and Fax Communication

 

Are numbers of calls and message returns monitored? Are there facilities for messages to be left and acted upon expeditiously? Are ringing telephones answered promptly? Are hotlines installed where necessary and sufficiently manned? Are the telephone and fax numbers well known to the public?

 

7. Access and Reception

Is the Office easily accessible by the public? Are there facilities for disabled access? Does the layout provide a safe and healthy work place? Are there sufficient reception arrangements which are customer-friendly and designed to respect the public's right to privacy?

Decision Making

8. Opportunity to be Heard and to Respond

Are the parties affected by a decision given an adequate opportunity to present information and evidence in support of their positions?

9. Timeliness

Are decisions made and actions taken within a reasonable period of time?

10. Explanation Given

Are the reasons for the decision, action or non-action fully explained to the public, and communicated in a way that is meaningful and easily understandable?

Public Grievances

11. Objection Channels Available

Are individuals informed of their right for an appeal, review and complaint, and the channels available, both internally and externally? Are these channels sufficiently publicized for general information? When this information is provided to individuals, is it done in a non-confrontational and respectful manner? Are these channels properly and adequately staffed?

12. Complaint Procedures

Are there realistic and clearly defined complaint procedures at all levels? Are there up-to-date performance pledges and customer liaison groups etc. which will facilitate public monitoring of standards of services and input for improvements?

Organisation

13. Nomenclature Used

Are the names of the divisions, sections, and units which made up the department sufficiently self-explanatory? Do the classifications of the department's components and the designations of individual officers reflect clearly and simply their main function performed? Are the use of abbreviations and jargons avoided in communication with the public?

14. Re-organisation

Is there any way to combine, separate or re-organise what the department does to achieve a higher quality of service delivery?

15. Co-ordination

Would policy or procedural changes in working relationships with other organisations or departments bring about overall improvements in service quality and fairness to the public? What mechanisms are in place to encourage this kind of review and internal audit of practices? What has been done to develop an attitude that promotes continuous improvements?

Consultation, Review and Planning

16. Consultation

Is there adequate consultation with affected individuals and groups all the way before programme initiatives are planned, developed, modified where necessary, and implemented? Is this consultation done in a meaningful and timely way? Is the way in which the final decision will be made clear from the outset to the affected persons?

17. Performance Pledges

Do they reflect realistically the standards achievable? Do they meet the public's expectation of the standards desired? Are there systems in place to constantly drive for improvements? Do they cover as much as possible of all the services of the department? Are their achievement reviewed and standard improved on a regular basis? Do we have Mission Statement for our staff so that they know what they are setting out to accomplish and how the organisation's standard is to be judged?

18. Review

Are public grievances used as a barometer to measure the improvements necessary in the planning and review of programmes and policies? Is sufficient regard given to appeal, review and complaint data in finalising programmes and reviews with a view to redressing public grievances and addressing the concerns of the community?


Concluding Remarks

19. This Checklist is by no means exhaustive. It may be suitably adapted to meet the operational needs of a department or organisation. Promoting fairness in the public administration is an established objective of the Office of The Ombudsman. It is clearly stated in our Mission. We believe that fairness should be demonstrated by :

  1. making decisions with impartiality and professional objectivity based on consistent and appropriate standards;
  2. demonstrating a commitment to justice, the equitable treatment of individuals and appreciation for diversity in all actions;
  3. exercising authority with open-mindedness and a willingness to seek out and consider all relevant information, including opposing perspectives;
  4. voluntarily correcting personal or organisational mistakes and improprieties and refusing to take unfair advantage of mistakes or ignorance of others; and
  5. scrupulously employing open, equitable and impartial processes for gathering and evaluating information necessary to decisions.