Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Public ombudsman


Country: Bulgaria

Context

The ombudsman of the municipality of Burgas has been officially created in 2013 to protect the rights and legitimate interests of citizens when they are violated by acts or omissions of municipal authorities or of their administrations and persons entrusted with the provision of public services. The ombudsman’s role is to contribute to the effective local government through the control of its actions. The ombudsman has been chosen by the City Council of Burgas through a competition. The activities of the ombudsman are widely promoted and popularized through a special link created on the official web site of the municipality of Burgas. The operational rules for the ombudsman, adopted by the municipal council of Burgas, are published in the web site.
Some of the major assignments of the ombudsman concern the following:
Development and publication of annual reports – Annual reports for 2012 and 2013 have been published
Elaboration of analyses, e.g. (i) content analysis of a particulate matter like noise, electromagnetic pollution of air, and drinking water quality in the municipality in 2012; (ii) analysis of calls of citizens, duty calls in the municipality and emergency calls
Presentation of official statements on issues concerning the economic and social development and the improvement of the local lifestyle of citizens

Measure

The ombudsman’s task is to submit proposals and reports to the local authority, to the authors of the argued acts or to their superior authorities. The activities aim to improve the quality of government services and enhance the legal awareness of local citizens.
The ombudsman’s activities contribute to provide equal opportunities for citizens to protect their rights and legitimate interests, regardless of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, social origin, age, financial status, political affiliation and religion.

Target Group

The main target groups of the activities of the ombudsman are local citizens, citizens and other representative organizations, public and private entities etc. The public ombudsman is the person who acts for and on behalf of the target groups and mediates whenever arguments occur. They are required to notify the public and representatives of organizations within twenty days from the receipt of the complaints to see what measures can be taken to solve the issue.

Methodology

While carrying out their activities, the ombudsman cooperates with the municipal administration, Standing Committees within the Burgas Municipal Council and public institutions that serve the citizens. At the same time they collaborate, interact and exchange information with the National Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria and associate with mediators from other municipalities.
The public ombudsman performs the following main activities:
Receives and investigates complaints and calls for violations of rights and freedoms sent by state and municipal authorities and their administrations, as well as those entrusted with the provision of public services. Then responds in writing to the person who has sent the complaint within one month but if the case requires a thorough examination, the period is prolonged to three months. Makes proposals and recommendations for the restoration of violated rights and freedoms to the authorities, their administrations and persons concerned according to the specific case.
The public ombudsman mediates between the administrative authorities and the individuals concerned to address violations and foster reconciliation, and acts on own initiative if finds that the conditions necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens are not created. Complaints and reports to the ombudsman may be submitted by legal entities and organizations, through their representatives, and by single individuals irrespective of nationality, gender, political affiliation or religious beliefs, in the case of:
Violation of the requirements of legality and regularity of administrative acts and actions of local authorities;
Failure to comply with procedures for issuing administrative decisions and providing administrative services;
Providing false or insufficient information for the exercise of the rights and duties of citizens and the terms and conditions of administrative services;
Acts of incompetence, bad faith, sluggishness and disregard for the dignity of the citizens.
Complaints may be written or oral, submitted in person, by post or by other traditional means of communication. They are recorded in a register case by case where the undertaken actions and the results of these are archived as well. The public ombudsman then presents an analysis of the complaints, reports, and statements before the Mayor of Burgas and the City Council every six months.

Stakeholders

The local authority in Burgas has the leading role of creator of the public ombudsman and has to monitor their activities. The respective institutions, companies or organizations that are directly concerned by the topic of the appeals can contribute by providing statements, letters of support, objections etc. And the ombudsman is the key actor who is most actively involved in the communicative process. Local citizens are major group that directly contributes to the ombudsman’s activities.

Assessment

The activities of the ombudsman are positively assessed; especially they are appreciated by the local residents who have the possibility of peer communication, discussion and personal meetings. In addition various informative toolkits, brochures and informative booklets have been published to serve as an information tool for the citizens.

Impact

In order to better serve and inform the citizens, the following communication tools and kits are published and disseminated in paper and through press releases and online information:
My rights
Good governance, open administration, active citizens
Law of multifamily households’ management and Ordinance № 5 for technical passports of buildings
Active Citizens, open administration, good governance
Judiciary - Guide to help citizens
My rights as a European citizen
Charter of European Cities / summary /
Citizens can be easily informed and updated on any rules and procedures, rights and obligations deemed important for taking decisions on specific local cases. The monthly open meetings of the City Council and the possibility to communicate with the public ombudsman lead to a higher level of trust of the citizens towards local authorities.

Swot

1. Strengths (characteristics of the measure that give it an advantage over others):
Leading role of the public ombudsman to mediate between citizens and public authorities
The ombudsman contributes to the effective local government through control of its actions
The activities of the ombudsman are widely promoted and popularized through a special link created on the official web site of the municipality of Burgas
Possibility of the citizens to make appeals, complaints and calls
2. Weaknesses (characteristics that place the measure at a disadvantage relative to others)
The public ombudsman cannot have an influence on specific decisions taken by the respective authorities, even when the question is of public benefit
The administrative procedures take a longer amount of of time which in some cases can have negative impacts on the parties concerned
3. Opportunities (elements that the measure could exploit to its advantage):
Replication of the initiative for other local authorities
Widen the competences and rights of the public ombudsman as an institution representing citizens
4. Threats (elements in the environment that could cause trouble to the measure):
Lack of funding enabling to implement specific practices and measures

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