TUE, 11 SEP 2001 02:52:33 GMT
Sofia Too Hasty with the Institution of Ombudsman
Municipal councilmen of Sofia did not wait for the passing of the law on
public defence attorney
As of September 1, the citizens of Sofia will be able to express their
discontent with the work of state administration to Ombudsman of Sofia
Antoaneta Coneva. City Council of Sofia elected the first public defence
attorney who will receive a salary of 700 levs, i.e. German marks, and
who is entitled to appoint a three-member team of experts.
Every citizen has the right to address the Ombudsman if he/she is
refused a service or did not get full and correct information on his/her
rights in relations with the administration. The Ombudsman is engaged as
a mediator between the citizens and the administration in finding a way
to ensure that the citizens are rendered services they are entitled to.
The two-year project of introduction of the institution of a public
mediator in Sofia was initiated by the Centre of Social Services
together with the municipality of Sofia and with financial support of
the Open Society Foundation. The sum of 25 thousand dollars was provided
for it in the first year.
The Centre for Social Services was engaged in the introduction of the
institution of Ombudsman since 1994, and there are 10 municipal
ombudsmen in Bulgaria so far.
In fact, introduction of a similar institution was seriously considered
back in 1991 in connection with passing of the new Constitution. At the
time opinion prevailed that it would be better to wait until the
democratic system took root. However, neither at the time nor in the
past ten years had there been any doubt that the institution of
ombudsmen would not be introduced in Bulgaria.
After the initial euphoria, certain delicate explanations followed that
an ombudsman in Sofia would have great difficulties in carrying out his
duty. One of the complaints was that the municipality of Sofia has
decided to nominate a public mediator although there still was no law on
ombudsman. In other words, Ms. Coneva will work without normatively
guaranteed power of attorney.
In practice municipal councilmen have elected a clerk - ombudsman - who
they will pay a salary in order to check their work. There is really no
logic in that. The post of ombudsman is deprived of its sense in this
The institution of ombudsman created almost two centuries ago in
Scandinavian countries was introduced in order to control state
administration. In some countries ombudsman is the "European commissar
for the protection of human rights", and in others he is the "Commissar
for administration". Regardless of the name, the essence of the
institution is the same everywhere. This person is a public defence
attorney who protects the rights and the interests of the citizens from
actions and decisions and documents of the administration.
However, European ombudsman is an independent public agency. That is the
difference between a public attorney and an ombudsman who has
instruments of power at his disposal. He is not only entitled to demand
information from bureaucrats but can also sanction and order payment of
compensation to citizens because of inappropriate behavior of
What is confusing in case of Sofia's ombudsman is that she will not
check the agreed privatisation business deals or activities of municipal
societies. This is the sphere in which the municipal council limited the
jurisdiction of this institution.
Besides, the Ombudsman will answer for her work to the municipal council
of Sofia and the mayor, and not its citizens. However, they claim at the
municipal council, this public defence attorney will submit annual
reports that will be approved by the municipal council at its sessions.
The report will, therefore, in fact be submitted to the municipal
councilmen and not the mayor, therefore to the citizens, especially
since it will be published.
And what will happen if the councilmen refuse to approve the submitted
report? That would mean that they do not approve the activity of the
institution itself and they could vote in favour of withdrawing the
power of attorney entrusted to it.
There is no doubt that the institution of ombudsman is necessary. For
the time being its role is to warn and control the administration
because it is an institution that defends justice but does not
administer it. An ombudsman cannot decide on a case with the power of
passing a sentence, so the scope of the operation can be only in the
administration – central or local.
According to the opinion of experts perhaps it would have been better to
wait until the end of the year in order to pass a relevant law. There
are several draft laws at the Committee for Human Rights. They prescribe
deputy’s immunity for the ombudsman who is entitled to create an
apparatus which would include local ombudsmen. Like in ombudsman’s
homeland, Sweden, in many other European countries ombudsman’s
jurisdiction covers the whole territory of a state. This will be given
priority in the draft law of the ruling Simeno the Second National
Movement (NPSD) which the deputies hope will be passed by the end of the
year. According to the authors it would be best if the parliament elects
the people’s defence attorney.
However, according to numerous political observers in Sofia, in order to
make this institution operational, at least the next generation will
have to replace this one. It is necessary to change the mentality of
the Bulgarians and make them aware that the state and its agencies are
obliged to protect their rights and take care of them. To put it simply,
it is necessary to create the type of communication that implies that
the state and the citizen – tax payer – will equally take care of each