Interview with African Development Bank’s Ombudsman, Amabel Orraca-Ndiaye

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Question: Madame, how do you feel about your new position as the Bank Ombudsman?”

Answer: Good Morning. I must admit that I feel quite excited about my new function as The Bank Ombudsman. I felt honored, grateful and humbled when I learnt of the qualities required to serve as an Ombudsman and will strive to be worthy of the trust placed in me and the Office with the nomination.

As usual, I hope to perform the task with a deep sense of commitment, a dose of enthusiasm, energy and imagination, working, of course, in close collaboration with the current team in the Office. Together, we shall make the Office more visible, vibrant and effective in serving the Bank and its staff.

I am also encouraged to inherit an Office where the staff size, small as it may be, have professional training and experience in receiving and handling complaints from Bank staff ranging from implementation of Bank policy, abuse of power, code of conduct, benefits and compensation, recruitment and career development etc. The Office has a good record and relatively long experience in managing conflict through ombudsing/conciliation or/ and mediating. Recently, the Office has started designing and carrying out targeted training and skills development programs for managers, resident representatives, leads and other staff in supervisory positions on conflict management and mediation. 

The aim is to involve a wider number of people in nurturing a more peaceful and harmonious work place environment. It has also launched the Values Promotions Champions (VPC) program to ensure that the field offices are not left out in this quest to have a more peaceful, civil and respectful workplace environment. .

Question: You have been in the Bank for several years. Do you consider that a necessary and sufficient condition to be effective as the Ombudsman?

Answer: Well it is true that I have several years of experience in the Bank starting as a young professional, then rising to the positions of senior professional, manager, and lead.  All these positions provided me with knowledge, experiences and skills that constitute a solid footing to perform the function as the Bank Ombudsman. As you know, I officially assumed duty about six weeks ago. That short experience has revealed to me that certain specialized skills in communications, negotiations, diplomacy, information gathering, and creating an appropriate office ambiance are as important as specific training in conflict management and mediation for all the staff serving in the Office, myself included.  The Bank is a member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and the United Nation of the United Nations and Related International Organizations (UNARIO) Ombudsmen and Mediators network.

Through the professional training sessions, exchange of information and sharing of best/good practices, the staff of the Office continues to sharpen their skills and the Office is able to adhere to the Standards of Practice set by the IOA. I will personally attend the various training and skill development sessions as have done several of my peers in other institutions in order to be more effective in this function. Let me inform you that I already had the opportunity to attend the 8th Annual UNARIO Meeting of Ombudsmen and Mediators that took place at the UNESCAP premises in Bangkok from the 9-12 September 2009. Additionally, together with the Administrative Assistant of the Office, we shall be attending the IOA course on Conflict Management and Mediation Course 101 and 101 Plus offered by the IOA in North Carolina from the 25-31 October 2009.

Question: Please share with us your personal plans to render the Office of the Ombuds more effective?

Answer: As you know the field of ombudsing is dynamic and as such there are several initiatives and strategies that I intend to implement and I will share a few of those with you;

  • Firstly, together with the team, we hope to increasingly engage managers, resident representatives, leads, supervisors and supervisees in civil conversation. Using the induction programs organized by Human Resources Department, CRMU and/or specialized sessions organized by the Office with organization units and field offices as well as our private discussions with complainants to provide regular guidance in application of staff rules and ethical behavior. We shall use the same means to remind staff of the values of the Bank and the importance of us all to live by those values.
  • Secondly, we shall extend the skills development and training programs beyond conflict management and mediation to those that embrace issues of staff dignity, respect and impunity at the workplace.
  • Thirdly, you will agree with me that to effectively rout systemic problems, detect root causes of conflict and tensions we have to join hands with other organization units/offices of the Bank mandated to provide staff recourse and ensure internal justice. Consequently, while still adhering to our Code of Ethics of confidentiality, neutrality/impartiality, informality, and independence, we shall work more closely with the Staff Council (SCO) (Staff Council), Ethics Office, Human Resources Department, Compliance Review and Mediation Unit (CRMU)in order to contribute more towards bridging gaps in the implementation of policy and reducing both the human and financial cost of conflict to the Bank.
  • Fourthly, we shall draw on ideas/practices of other institutions through the collaborative ombudsmen and mediators networks described earlier to enhance the delivery capacity of the Office in the Bank and share Bank experience in promoting a conflict competent institution to our external partners.
  • Fifthly, we shall revamp our website to provide more information about our services and seek feedback on our service delivery for making further improvements. We shall enrich the quality of our Newsletter. All of these will be geared towards encouraging staff to use the informal recourse system in handling complaints and to assist the Bank to reduce the human and financial cost of conflict on its limited resources. It goes without saying that, using the Ombuds Office provides informal, confidential, neutral, impartial and independent and a more secured “Listening Ear” for staff complaints, conflict management and mediation.

Question: You mentioned the VPCs in your earlier response to a question. Who are the VPCs, and how are they selected?

Answer: The Values Promotion Champions (VPC) program was established by Management last year to cater for the need of field offices for conflict management and early resolution of workplace disputes. It represents a network of peer volunteers who provide informal assistance to staff facing unethical behaviors and other types of stress and/or harassment in the work place. A VPC is a trusted, readily –available and especially confidential resource to whom field level staff can resort for assistance and support when they face workplace problems.  This is useful when staff are not at ease about seeking such help form their supervisors, or when they are not certain about where to seek assistance. The Bank selected 23 VPCs for the functional field offices last year and 22 of them received special training on conflict management and mediation to enable them serve as the first port of call for staff complaints. The VPCs for Ethiopia and Uganda have currently been transferred to the ATR and we have initiated the process of having their replacement. Once staffed, VPCs for new field offices in Algeria, Angola and South Africa will be selected. We plan on continuing these training sessions for the newly selected ones.

Let me seize this opportunity to sensitize staff about the important role of the VPCs in the field and the relevance of the services they have volunteered to offer and as well as their close working relations with the Ombuds Office. Also note that institutions such as the World Bank Group, ILO and UNHCR have similar programs..

Turning to the selections process itself, it is as follows:

  • The Resident Representative/OIC, after sensitizing field staff about the importance role of the VPC in the office and the selection exercise, is required to make a call to staff to nominate individuals whom they most respect and trust to represent them as a VPC. The Resident Representative cannot nominate anyone and will not be eligible for nomination.  The process must be kept confidential. 
  • The Resident Representative should select the most-nominated name and communicate same to the Ombudsman’s Office in Tunis.
  • The Ombudsman in consultation with the SCO, the Ethics Officer and the Manager of the Anti-Corruption and Fraud Division of OAGL will go through the nominations and check with the people so selected on their willingness to serve as VPC.
  • Once confirmation is received the staff member becomes the selected VPC for that office.

Question: What has been the contribution of the VPCs since the establishment of the program a year ago?

Answer: The contribution of the VPCs to the activities of the Office during the year has been commendable as they played a significant role in seeking to facilitate resolution to conflict within the work place outside Tunis. You might wish to know that the skills gained by the VPCs came about as a result of intense training that they all underwent. It is these added skills that have seen the development of a conduit between the Office and the Field Offices and added to the enrichment of the reporting process.   

You will also realize that some of the activities of the VPCs are currently captured through the in-house Newsletter.