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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Ombudsman Warns Privatization, Cuts Erode Public Accountability


    The BC Liberal regime’s privatization efforts and cuts to public monitoring agencies are threatening British Columbians’ right to hold government authorities accountable, says the BC Ombudsman.

    BC Ombudsman Howard Kushner’s recently released his 2002 Annual Report, which discusses what he calls the “harsh realities” of the 35 per cent cut to his office’s budget and its ability to serve the public.

    In the report, Kushner also takes aim at the government’s privatization and outsourcing initiatives, which have removed several government institutions from the office’s jurisdiction and away from public scrutiny.

    "In some cases, the oversight of the Ombudsman has been deliberately removed, as with the new BC Ferry Services," Kushner said. He adds that privatization initiatives undertaken at the same time as severe cuts to his budget causes concern that British Columbians may lose the ability to access his office with complaints involving all authorities under his jurisdiction.

    "In light of our reduced budget, we will not be able to investigate complaints about some authorities,” he said. “As a consequence, a level of accountability and an assurance of fairness by those authorities in their dealings with the public will be lost."

    Despite repeated election promises of maintaining an open and transparent government, the Liberals have come under fire for making deep cuts to Legal Aid, placing more restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act and rolling back human rights guarantees, especially in areas dealing with employment.

    The government insists the huge cuts to the Ombudsman’s office will not hinder its ability to function, despite Kushner’s report.

    While Kushner's priority remains ensuring every member of the public is treated fairly by public agencies that fall under the authority of his office, he says the resources needed to fully meet the task simply are no longer there.

    The Ombudsman’s office operates as a complaint driven advocacy office for members of the public who have been mistreated by government administration and agencies. The yearly report provides an overview of how the office conducts its business, including the development and implementation of performance measures covering all of its areas, using case studies as examples of the types of complaints received.

     In 2002, the Ombudsman received more than 10,000 complaints and inquiries about administrative unfairness.

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