Office of the Joburg Ombudsman braces for an influx of calls from disgruntled residents as elections loom
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Johannesburg - Advocate Siduduzo Gumede is Joburg’s Ombudsman and he is a man on a mission.
And that mission is to make sure that the City of Johannesburg runs efficiently. Very often, the Office of the Joburg Ombudsman receives complaints of alleged maladministration as well as human rights violations, lodged against the City of Johannesburg.
With the municipal elections looming, the Office of the Joburg Ombudsman is bracing for an influx of calls for help from disgruntled residents - and it’s ready.
Gumede said the aim of his office is to engage with residents on their constitutional rights to efficient service delivery and the crucial role that the Ombudsman, as the people’s advocate, plays in ensuring that whatever party holds office, they are held accountable together with their employees and respective state-owned entities.
While he views himself as the “Ombudsman interrupted” his passion for the job has not waned in the slightest. Gumede started the office of the Ombudsman in the City of Johannesburg in 2015 and became the first Ombudsman until 2017 when the political landscape changed.
Despite being suspended by the DA in 2017 and that suspension ending up in the Labour Court, Gumede said he has put all that behind him and is focussed on serving the people of the City of Gold.
“It has always been important to me that things are done properly. If we can get this office right, it will bode well for the other big cities. This office is unique in local government,” said a fired up Gumede.
Fast-forward to May 2021 and Gumede is back with a bang and again took up the mantle of the Ombudsman in the City of Johannesburg.
“There is so much misinformation about what the Joburg Ombudsman may and may not assist with and we would like to clarify and simplify our mandate and processes. We believe this information would be beneficial to them particularly as they prepare to vote for their preferred party to manage the administration of the city,” he said.
“It is an institution of the municipality accountable to Council and subject to the provisions of its by-law. It must at all times be impartial and exercise its powers, duties and functions without fear, favour or prejudice. It must ensure that all complaints relating to alleged acts of maladministration where members of the public are alleged to have suffered an injustice as a result of such maladministration by the administration or any of its employees, and where such acts allegedly infringe upon the Constitutional rights of an individual, are investigated and dealt with in a proper manner. It must ensure that the complaints relating to the actions of the administration including its employees, where such alleged acts allegedly result in a contravention upon the rights of the public to efficient and courteous service, dignity, honesty and integrity in the public administration of the municipality, are investigated properly and dealt with.”
The office must ensure the adherence to the principles of procedural fairness and administrative justice, among others.
The 55-year-old’s love of the law was fostered in his early days in Kwadukuza, KZN, where he grew up in the homes of former Chief Justice, Pius Langa and the Luthulis.
“This is what I want to do. I know who to go to should I need help. I have a direct line to the mayor so I can go to him and say: you said you would do this and that, let’s see how far you are,” he said.
When Gumede started the office of the Ombudsman in 2015, he requested an operational budget of R81 million. He was only given R61 million and in 2021, that budget was reduced to R37 million.
“But we can always get our budget increased if we show the work that we are doing. In September we received and processed 178 complaints. Most relate to faulty water or electricity bills or reporting leaks. Residents need to know that we are here to assist them.”
Gumede said they are expecting work to pick up considerably after November 1.
“This is also a good thing. The City makes promises and very often there is nobody who can follow through on those promises. We can hold the City accountable,” he said.