Talking Point on the Times of Malta – Right to Good Administration

Talking Point by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon published on the Time of Malta on the 24th October 2023


Right to Good Administration

A conference will examine whether this right is a myth, aspiration, or reality

In a democracy, the relationship between the person and the public administration is paramount. Within the framework and for the purposes of relations of the person with the institutions of the European Union, the right to good administration is embodied in article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and by virtue of the Lisbon Treaty, the charter is part of the laws of this country.

I believe that the time is mature enough for a wide-ranging discussion and eventual consideration of making that right also a right that can be availed of for domestic law purposes and possibly enshrined in the constitution of Malta.

There are diverse ways how this democratic target can be ultimately achieved. The way ahead is to debate the matter seriously and on substance.

The overriding principle for the right to good administration is founded on the need for the public administration to operate well with transparency, fairness and accountability.

On the domestic level, acknowledgement of the right would stimulate a transparent decision-making process by public offices, adherence to just procedures and a rejection of improper discrimination.

These and other principles that are relevant for a full consideration of this right will be the subject of an international conference that my office will be holding in Malta on October 31 and November 1, in collaboration with the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen.

The title of the conference will be “The Right to Good Administration: Myth, Aspiration, or Reality?” Ombudsmen from the Mediterranean and European countries have confirmed their participation. The sessions will be addressed not only by foreign ombudsmen but also by leading local and foreign academics together with representatives of the Maltese public administration.

The conference aims to shed light on the ombudsman’s crucial role in bridging the divide between the person and administrative bodies. The operations of the Office of the Ombudsman, which in our country is a constitutional office, are rooted in the principles of justice and fairness. The office ensures that decisions made by the public administration remain both transparent and equitable, reinforcing public trust in administrative processes.

When the office investigates written complaints of persons (be they physical or moral) or when the office undertakes initiatives on its own motion, the office not only attempts to find a remedy when the complaint is found to be justified but ensures that persons, especially the vulnerable, do not fall by the wayside in public administration complexities and unnecessary bureaucracy. Every concern raised is valued and given attention.

The discussions and interventions at the conference will also deal with the right to good administration within the broader context of human rights and privacy.

Because of the rapid changes in societies brought out also by quick developments in technology, keeping a balance between the fundamental rights of the person and the often arduous and complicated requirements of the public administration is increasingly crucial.

The conference will also address and analyse the ever-evolving dynamics between state offices and public administration. The intricate relationship between independent state bodies and the broader public administration forms the bedrock of modern governance.

A particular plenary session of the two-day conference will provide insightful discussions, exploring the multifaceted nuances of this relationship, with a special emphasis on the importance of tangibly and concretely fostering a true spirit of collaboration and mutual respect.

The role of the ombudsman is not simply to resolve complaints or to mediate where necessary but to champion the rights of the person. To maximise the relevance of their mission, the ombudsmen institutions must be proactive, must maintain ongoing engagement with society, and be responsive to everyday challenges.

The duty of the office is evident: to strengthen the dialogue on governance and accountability. It is not a question of the codification of a right. It is about striving to ensure that democratic principles do reach the person in every life.

The conference and others that are planned by the office for the immediate future will help us move ahead as a nation in the interest of governance and accountability for the benefit of all.

Furthermore, these initiatives will promote a healthy and meaningful debate that places the person at the centre of democratic activity.

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