Close to 50 ombudspersons from across the globe participated in the webinar which was hosted by the Israel State Comptroller and Ombudsman (24/11/20), under the auspices of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI). Representative ombudspersons spoke of the difficulties experienced by the public, as well as health, social and economic issues. The purpose of the webinar was to share the knowledge and experience garnered by professionals who deal with public complaints around the world, and to hear how other ombuds institutions are dealing with the problems of the public during the coronavirus crisis. These insights will enable ombudspersons all over the world to plan their activities in accordance with the changing reality and to deal more effectively with the issues raised by the public.
For example, the participants learned that in Hong Kong, there was a 300% increase in the number of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman due to Covid-19. In Taiwan, there was a significant rise in the number of complaints of violence in the family and of sexual abuse. The Ombudsman of Thailand told of an increase in complaints due to a shortage of masks and disinfectant materials and the high prices placed on these items. The Taxation Ombudsperson of Australia stated that her office focused on the issue of proper service to taxpayers, mainly to small-business owners who had to deal with the tax authorities. The Ombudsperson of British Columbia related how his office examined the legality of emergency orders issued by the minister responsible for public safety and the attorney general. The Ombudsman found that two of the orders exceeded the minister's authority. In Slovenia, most of the complaints pertained to social issues, and the Ombudsman's office had to clarify to law enforcement agencies the need for special treatment of people with disabilities with regard to wearing masks. Also in New Zealand emphasis was placed on assisting people with disabilities, and a special report on this subject is in the works. In Israel, most of the complaints related to Covid-19 were about issues related to the National Insurance Institute, with 67% of the complaints pertaining to these issues. This necessitated intervention of the Israel Ombudsman's Office and systemic changes in matters that arose as a result of investigation of the complaints.
The participants in the webinar included Mr. Matanyahu Englman, Israel State Comptroller and Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, President of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), Dr. Adv. Esther Ben-Haim, Head of the Office of the Israel Ombudsman, Regional Presidents of the IOI from each continent, and ombudspersons from almost 50 additional countries.
The Israel State Comptroller and Ombudsman, Mr. Matanyahu Englman, recently published a special report describing the various ways in which the Office of the Israel Ombudsman granted assistance to complainants and the steps that were taken to ensure accessibility of the services provided by the Office to all those in need of them due to the crisis. The report also set forth the defects in the service provided by the public sector that were revealed as a result of the investigation of the many complaints received during the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis.
Israel State Comptroller and Ombudsman, Mr. Matanyahu Englman: "Ensuring the rights of the individual is important at all times, but it is crucial in times of emergency such as the Covid-19 crisis we are all experiencing globally during the past year, which has affected the world in many ways, mainly regarding health and economic aspects. Our main focus when investigating a complaint during the Covid-19 pandemic is to assist the complainant by finding an appropriate solution for his needs."
Mr. Englman added that sectors of the population injured by the crisis included the elderly and the unemployed, and employees of the Office reached out on their own initiative to these populations to make sure that they received optimal treatment. He also stated that the Office undertook a thorough examination as to the proper functioning of the public bodies.