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NEWS ANALYSIS: Repositioning The Public Complaints Commission For Greater Efficiency

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by Abigael Joshua, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Public Complaints Commission
By its mandate, the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) ought to be a veritable and powerful ombudsman which addresses the various complaints of the citizenry.

Observers believe that through the PCC, the citizens and foreigners residing in Nigeria should be able to seek redress for “unfair’’ administrative decisions by government establishments or their officials at no cost.

Mr Obunike Ohaegbu, the PCC Commissioner in the FCT, noted that the public expectations of the commission’s functions were quite high.

“This is because the commission’s role is not only to receive complaints from aggrieved parties who have suffered one form of injustice or the other; it should also take the initiative to address issues,’’ he said.

He said that the commission was mandated to receive complaints on delays in the payment of gratuity, pension and land compensation, wrongful termination of appointment or dismissal and difficulties encountered in getting insurance companies to pay claims, among others.

As a rule, these complaints are made in writing and signed by the complainants before they are presented to the commission.

However, complainants who are not literate are assisted by the commission’s officials to write complaints, while the contents are read and interpreted to them in the language they understand in the presence of witnesses.

Ohaegbu noted that although the PCC ought to be better appreciated with the coming of democratic government in 1999 and the “adoption’’ of the PCC Act by the 1999 Constitution, the reverse was the case.

He recalled that no executive officer was, however, appointed for the PCC from 1999 until the National Assembly, in compliance with the Act, inaugurated the Chief Commissioner and other commissioners for the commission in May 2012.

According to him, the Act does not only empower commissioners to summon anybody, it also stipulates that a commissioner shall have access to all information necessary for the efficient performance of his or her duties.

Observers, however, note that the inauguration of the PCC executives is a watershed in efforts to put in place a viable public complaints mechanism for the country.

They argue that by the inauguration, the National Assembly keyed into the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, giving Nigerians a leeway to ventilate their views on government’s activities.

This notwithstanding, the observers stress that there is little or no public awareness about the activities of the PCC, as the citizens, whose interests the agency is supposed to protect, know little or nothing about its existence.

This, among other challenges, has compelled various stakeholders to clamour for increased public enlightenment about the mission of the commission.

Prof. Jonah Elaigwu of University of Jos said that the features of the 21st Century civilisation, which included innovations in the technological and communication fields, had created new challenges for the PCC.

Elaigwu said this at a retreat organised for the commissioners and directors of the commission in Abuja in December 2013.

He stressed that the PCC required visionary and effective leadership, including team spirit among its personnel, to enable it to give quality service delivery to Nigerians.

Elaigwu advised the PCC commissioners and directors to develop new ideas and strategies that would reflect strong determination and political will.

He, nonetheless, noted that the degeneration of public services in the country had posed new challenges for commission.

Senate President David Mark, who spoke at the opening of the retreat, however, stressed that for Nigeria to effectively fight corruption and administrative injustices, the PCC must be given absolute professional independence.

Mark, who was represented by Sen. Ayo Akinyelure, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Ethics, Privilege and Public Petitions, noted that the non-release of funds by the executive arm government once caused delays in the payment of the salaries and entitlements of PCC workers for some months.

He reiterated the support of the National Assembly for the PCC in efforts to fight administrative injustices.

However, Prof. Victor Ayeni, a Consultant with UK-based Governance and Management Services International, said that a public complaints agency must be beneficial to the society.

He, nonetheless, underscored the need for individuals to know and appreciate the commission’s line of work.

Justice George Uloko, the Chief Commissioner for PCC, said that the retreat was to create public awareness in efforts to reposition the commission for better delivery.

He listed inadequate finance as the major challenge facing the commission, pledging, however, that the commission would continue to train and re-train its workforce to enable the workers to meet their expected responsibilities

Uloko noted that the commission had existed without constitutional leadership for about 13 years.

“In order to cover the lost ground, we have identified the repositioning of the Public Complaints Commission as a critical factor to be addressed,’’ he said.

Alhaji Usman Dugubari, the chairman of the retreat’s organising committee, noted that the PCC became active through the intervention of the National Assembly and thanked the lawmakers for their support to the commission

Mrs Angela Metuh-Mbah, the PCC Commissioner in Anambra, said that the commission had handled 6,000 cases in 2013, adding that most of the cases related to pensions’ settlement.

She said that the best way to tackle the menace of corruption in the public service was to put the pension system right.

Reiterating that 60 per cent of the cases handled by the PCC were pension-related, Metuh-Mbah bemoaned a situation where workers’ pensions were not paid many years after their retirement.

The challenges facing the PCC notwithstanding, observers insist that the commission should make pragmatic efforts to treat the numerous pending cases.

They also urge the commission to make concerted efforts to increase the public awareness of its activities to as to justify the rationale behind its establishment.