Story: Ombudsmen and officers of Parliament
The three officers of Parliament – the ombudsman, the controller and auditor general, and the parliamentary commissioner for the environment – help to ensure accountability of government officials in New Zealand. Each officer has investigative, auditing and advisory functions and is independent from the government.
Full story by David McGee
Main image: Dispute between the Crown Law Office and the ombudsman, 2003
The Short Story
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There are three officers of Parliament in New Zealand:
- the ombudsman
- the controller and auditor general
- the parliamentary commissioner for the environment.
Role of officers of Parliament
Officers of Parliament are appointed by the governor-general to carry out inquiries and reviews on government activity. They are responsible to Parliament, but politically neutral. The officers cannot be dismissed by the government if it disagrees with a decision.
The position of ombudsman was created in 1962. The main purpose of the ombudsmen’s office is to mediate between citizens and the state about:
- maladministration (bad or unfair practice by government departments)
- providing official information
- whistleblowing (when state employees report what they see as bad or illegal practices by their employer)
- inspecting detention facilities, such as prisons.
The success of the ombudsman in New Zealand has led many other countries to introduce something similar.
Controller and auditor general
The auditor general looks into the spending of public funds by central and local government. He or she provides audit (inspection) and assurance about accountability to Parliament, and carries out performance audits and inquiries. The auditor general made a controversial inquiry into election spending by political parties in 2005.
Parliamentary commissioner for the environment
In the 1980s the office of parliamentary commissioner for the environment (PCE) was established to provide independent advice. The PCE investigates and reports on environment issues, and also makes submissions on policy and legislation.