The Early Experience and Challenges. Since becoming operational, my Office has proved to be a significant catalyst for reform of a wide range of administrative and human resource management practices within the Defence Forces.
Within the first six months of operation, I was heartened to observe that the Defence Forces implemented significant changes in selection procedures with respect of overseas service and career courses. This reform, on foot of my recommendations, had an immediate effect. As early as March 2006, there was a swift and positive response to some of the first cases, in which I had found that there was a lack of consistency in the criteria used in promotion procedures and that Selection or Promotion Boards were not using consistent criteria in assessing the candidates.
As evidence of the value of this response, it is worth noting that in 2006 cases arising out of complaints about the selection process for career courses comprised 31% of cases but by 2007, this number had dropped to just 13%.
It was a reassuring sign that my Office has won the trust and confidence of Defence Forces personnel of all ranks, to record in 2007, the second year of operation, more than 20% of cases eligible for investigation came from the rank of Lieutenant, Commandant and Lt. Colonel.
My Office is accountable and must produce an Annual Report which I present to our Parliament every year. I use the Annual Reports to give account of how the Office works – not just by presenting statistical information but by including anonymous summaries of a cross-section of the Cases (with the prior permission of the Complainant) that I have Adjudicated during the preceding year.
It is well established universally that the Office of Ombudsman must ‘practice what it preaches’ so accountability and transparency is an inherent part of the work of any proper Ombudsman Institution.
The Final Reports I issue, not only adjudicate in respect of an individual member’s case, but my investigations also serve to highlight areas of Defence Forces administration and systemic practices in need of reform.
By 2009, the then Minister for Defence stated in the Parliament that the input of the Ombudsman had assisted the Defence Forces in the revision of a number of Human Resource procedures including the selection processes for career courses and overseas service. He formally concluded that recommendations in the Ombudsman’s reports had also informed the revision of selection processes for promotion, a new version of which was then being negotiated with the representative associations through the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme. So progress, a positive impact, and value for money were evident within a short time of the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman.
I actively conduct an audit on the implementation of commitments for reform given by the military authorities and the Minister for Defence in response to my recommendations in relation to administrative and systemic practices. My recommendations have been a catalyst for reform across a wide range of areas including access to information on the personal files of members, more transparent selection/interview procedures and a review of performance appraisal assessment procedures. It is safe to say there have been changes, which have has a positive impact on the daily working lives of members of the Defence Forces.