President David Granger: Honourable Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security; Honourable Raphael Trotman, Minister of Natural Resources; Honourable Joseph Harmon, Minister of State; Justice Winston Patterson, Ombudsman of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana; Mr. Reginald Brotherson, Permanent Secretary, the Department of the Public Service; members of Justice Patterson’s family; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, I congratulate Justice Patterson on his appointment to this high office; an office which the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana enshrined from the start of our independence in 1966. Guyana actually was the first country in the western hemisphere and the second country in the Commonwealth to enshrine the position of Ombudsman in its Constitution.
The decision to establish an Ombudsman in Guyana had its genesis in the Report of the British Guiana Commission of Inquiry Constituted by the International Commission of Jurists October 1965. Racial Problems in Public Service. Mr. Forbes Burnham – the Premier of British Guiana at that time – in 1965 invited the International Commission of Jurists to send a team to undertake an examination of racial imbalances in the country’s public service.
This occurred, of course, in the aftermath of the bloody ‘Disturbances’ of 1964. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry noted inter alia that and I quote:
… since there have been cases of alleged discrimination where it will not be practicable to invoke the Constitution in the courts as a means of redress it would be desirable to have a simple, swift and inexpensive procedure for investigating such cases.
The Report noted further that the government of the day, recognising the need to investigate maladministration, including racial discrimination, supported the idea of an Ombudsman vested with constitutional authority.
The Constitution, therefore, vests the Ombudsman with the authority to investigate claims of injustice suffered as a result of maladministration in Government. The Constitution states further that the Ombudsman:
…may investigate any action taken by any department of government or by any action taken by any department of government or by any other authority to which this article applies or by the President, Ministers, officers or members of such a department or authority being action taken and exercised by that function of that department or authority.
The Ombudsman, quite correctly, has been described as a protector and defender of citizens against injustices caused by maladministration. The Ombudsman provides an important service to the public. The services under the Ombudsman are free and timely. The Ombudsman serves as a watchdog, guarding against abuse or the violation of citizens’ rights by public officials and their departments and authorities. The Ombudsman indeed is a public advocate.
I, therefore, take this opportunity to express the appreciation of the Government for the services of the late Justice Winston Moore who held that office with respectability and credibility.
I take this opportunity now to express congratulations of the Government to his successor Justice Winston Patterson (both ‘Winstons’) to whom I have just administered the oath of office and wish him every success in his appointment.