Seychelles was recently accepted into the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) with the hope that it will bring further opportunities for the progress and development of the work of the Ombudsman.
Founded in 1978 is the only international organisation that brings together more than 200 independent ombudsman institutions on a local, regional, and national level from more than 100 nations around the globe.
Currently serving as the Ombudsman of Seychelles, is barrister and attorney at law Nichole Tirant-Gherardi.
She is the fourth ombudsman appointed in Seychelles and succeeds Dora Zatte.
SNA spoke to the Ombudsman Tirant-Gherardi to learn more about her work.
SNA: Tell us about the role of the Ombudsman and the nature of your work?
NTG: The work of the ombudsman is terribly misunderstood. If I can give you an image, I see the work of the ombudsman as a bit of a quality controller on a factory floor and keeping an eye on the product, in this case the public service.
So, you keep an eye on that product to make sure that it follows the specifications required and where it doesn’t you either send it back to be fixed or make recommendations to make it better.
We are not a court and, therefore, cannot take any legal decisions as that is the judiciary’s job. Something can be wrong without necessarily being unlawful or illegal. Administrative actions can also be legally okay, but they can still be wrong. That is why the ombudsman is here.
SNA: In what situations can people come to the ombudsman for assistance then?
NTG: When you go to public service and you are treated wrongly or you feel your right has been affected, you can go to court, but sometimes that’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s going to cost you and take up a lot of your time, and you are going to waste a lot of time in court, for something that could be resolved with a letter or exchange. That’s where the ombudsman comes in.
We have the same powers of investigation as a judge, but we cannot give any orders. What I can do is make recommendations, mediate matters and also make recommendations to change laws if I deem it unfair. I can say that the public applied the law, but the law is not fair. So, people can come to me with any complaints regarding public service.
SNA: Do you think people know what an ombudsman is and when to come to you for help?
NTG: I think that people are understanding better and better. It’s a long-haul process and unfortunately, the office has remained in the shadows for too long, where not much has been done to give it the visibility that it really needs. But, I don’t think we can point fingers at anyone, as I think it got overshadowed as people did not really understand it.
The 1993 Constitution put the Ombudsman in it and it became an institution and over the years, a lot of our constitutional institutions were ignored or not given real value. That started to change under the administration of former President Danny Faure and hopefully, it will continue changing in the years to come.
But to answer your question, I still think there is a lot of work to be done, as people often come here with the wrong idea, thinking that I am going to become their advocate, which is not why I am here. When you come to me, you bring to me a problem that happened to you as a result of public service and I have to remain independent. You will never become my client.
SNA: You are in your last year in office, how will you describe the experience and the things you have achieved in this role?
NTG: My experience has been wonderful. I felt that this was something I wanted to try and do before I left, where I honestly believed I could make a difference. I don’t know if I made a difference, but I hope I have. I think that I have changed the perception of the office and given structure to it and also the work we do, which I hope will carry on after I have left.
I think it’s important that for the future there be structure to the office, that allows a smooth handing-over process. This is my biggest fear, that there might not be a physical handover from one person to the next when the mandate comes to an end. This is the only institution in town that does not have a deputy. I walked in, into an empty office.
Tirant-Gherardi presenting her office’s annual report 2021 to President Ramkalawan. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: Your office recently joined the International Ombudsman Institute. Tell us about IOI.
NTG: When I came into the office, there were two institutions that the office was already a member of, and they are two regional institutions. In my first year, I actually got elected into the committees of both institutes, but I wanted to get into the IOI, which is a learning institution and build up the capacity of ombudsmans across the world.
Seychelles was already a member of IOI from about 1994 or 1995 until 2004, when we could not pay anymore, and because we did not pay for three years, we lost our membership.
SNA: What does the organisation bring to your office here in Seychelles?
NTG: It brings another level of training opportunities along with the two other associations we are part of – the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA) and the L’Association des Ombudsmans et des Médiateurs de la Francophonie (AOMF). It has been very difficult to benefit from during the past two years, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The institutes give you research, and reports and they have a very interesting website, where the only way to gain access to these tools is to become a member. It also gives us training opportunities, access to the regional chapters and visibility. We actually applied for it in 2019, but we missed it due to the budget exercise and in 2020 Covid-19 hit, so I had to re-apply in 2022.