Interview with AfDB Ombudsperson, N.C. De-Souza
«It is in effect not a transfer of role. Our Values Promotion Champions (VPCs) will essentially serve as second role facilitators, to assist colleagues in field offices,” said AfDB Ombudsperson, Nwadinafor C. De-Souza, during the launching of the VPCs program on February 28, in Tunis.
Bank in Action: The Ombudsperson’s office has just launched the Values Promotion Champions Programme (VPC) in the institution's Regional Member Countries, under the auspices of Bank Group President Donald Kaberuka, with a 4-day training. Could you shed more light on this?
N.C. De-Souza: The Bank recognizes that it is the right of every staff member to be treated respectfully and with dignity. Unethical and disrespectful behaviour, intimidation or harassment of any kind, are viewed upon with serious disdain. In furtherance of these good practices the President is committed to supporting measures of conflict management that would contribute to early resolution of workplace disputes and prevent them from escalating to adversarial proportions which sometimes result in expensive litigation. It is important that out-reach efforts to our field offices in a context such as this, are undertaken in as effective and efficacious a manner as possible.
It is in pursuance of this that President Kaberuka has granted the Office of the Ombudsman approval to establish a Values Promotion Champions Programme (VPC) to cater to this need in our Field Offices. This idea is drawn largely from the Respectful Workplace Advisor Programme of the World Bank which comes under their Ombudsman’s Office and enables them to effectively reach out to their Field Offices.
Bank in Action: Upon reflexion, some of us think this is purely a transfer of authority and role to field offices. Are VPCs endowed with this role?
N.C. De-Souza: This is a crucial question. In demonstration of the Bank’s determination to address various conflicts, both the Board and Management have taken measures to strengthen the Bank’s internal justice and recourse mechanisms as borne out by the existence of not only the SCO, but also the Administrative Tribunal, the Staff Appeals Committee and the Office of the Ombudsman. In addition, the Board has also approved the establishment of an Ethics Office and an Ethics Officer will come on board in due course. The existence of these structures in organisations is increasingly becoming a governance gauge and the hallmark of a people-caring organisation. Conflict management has become an issue.
In our own case, the Ombudsman’s services, so far, has been made available to Field offices in a very limited way, understandably because of distance. E-mails, telephone and video-conferencing facilities have been used, and on occasion, in the past, the Ombudsman has had to physically travel to locations to facilitate conflict resolution. It is obvious that in such circumstances, efficiency, sustainability and effectiveness challenges would exist.
Bank in Action: What major qualities would one have to become a VPC?
N.C. De-Souza: The Values Promotion Champions will be a network of peers designated by their colleagues according to strict laid down criteria that lay high premium on proven personal integrity. They will be required to provide informal source of assistance to staff facing unethical behaviours and other types of stress and/or harassment in the workplace. A VPC will be a trusted, readily –available and especially confidential resource to whom staff can resort for assistance and support when they face workplace problems. This is useful when staff are not at ease about to seek such help form their supervisors, or when they are not certain about where to seek assistance. It goes without saying that cases with a certain degree of complexity should be brought to the attention of the Ombudsman.
These Values Promotion Champions have now been designated by the 23 operating Offices outside of Tunis and are required to undergo a rigorous four-day training to equip them for this all-important role. The Office of the Ombudsman is being assisted in this training by World Bank, and CHRM.
Aristide Agoungnon Ahouassou