|In the beginning of July 1999, the Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman of Sweden Gives a High Mark to the Draft Law on the People’s Defender Developed by a Work Group at the Center for the Study of Democracy.
“The Ombudsman institution has its place in every developed democratic society,” said Mr. Claes Eklundh, Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman of Sweden, during his first visit to Bulgaria at the beginning of July this year. Mr. Eklundh’s trip to Sofia was on invitation by the Center for the Study of Democracy, which is among the founders of Coalition 2000.
Mr. Eklundh gave a high mark to the draft Law on the People’s Defender (Ombudsman) developed by a work group at the Center for the Study of Democracy. According to the justifications accompanying the draft law, “the primary function and role of the People’s Defender (Ombudsman) is to observe the functioning of the country’s administration and to prevent public officials from abusing their powers, from corruption and discretionary decisions encroaching on human rights, to assist individuals with obtaining redress when their rights are violated by state officials and to contribute to the creation of a climate of respect for human rights and freedoms.”
The draft law envisages for the Bulgarian Ombudsman to conduct monitoring and exercise specific control within a comparatively broad area:
1) the operation of the executive power and the administration in particular,
2) the organization and activities of judicial administration and
3) any other public activity.
According to Mr. Eklundh, the presence of the Ombudsman institution is necessary in a democratic state, such as Bulgaria. However, the Ombudsman must have the support of the Parliament and his functions must be legally regulated. It is very important for the Ombudsman to possess the authorities to conduct independent investigations for which access to official and sometimes classified information is needed.
The success of the institution in Bulgaria will to a great extent depend on the personality of the People’s Defender. His impartiality is considered to be of primal importance. “Our main task is to guarantee that the principles and regulations instilled in legislation are abided by. By watching for violations on behalf of public administration we defend individual citizens,” Mr. Eklundh pointed out. A major principle is to distinguish the People’s Defender from state authorities. “We produce recommendations and publish reports but it is the court and other authorities who should act on the basis of our judgments,” Mr. Eklundh explained. Another important requirement is for the People’s Defender to be independent from political bias.
The draft law on the People’s Defender has proposed that the Bulgarian Ombudsman enjoys immunity from prosecution similar to that of Members of Parliament. This will guarantee that the People’s Defender remains independent from other institutions, the authors of the draft law believe. The draft also states that the People's Defender must be a Bulgarian national who “possesses a university degree and knowledge in the field of national and international law and reveals high integrity and devotion to the ideas of humanism and democracy.”