The Ombudman Board
The Ombudsman Board, which is an independent control body, has three members. Its task is to investigate alleged or suspected grievances and abuses on the part of the administration. It thus exercises public control in the interest of democracy and the rule of law and in so doing complements the political, legal and financial control functions.
Who Can Address What Concerns to the Ombudsman Board?
Every person can, irrespective of his/her age, nationality and place of residence, turn to the Ombusman Board with a complaint against an Austrian administrative authority (other than the public administrations of the provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, which have their own provincial ombudman’s offices). The only condition that must be met is that s/he has suffered a grievance or abuse on the part of the administration and has no other legal remedy (left) at his/her disposal. It is also possible for one person to lodge a complaint on behalf of another person in his or her care.
Complaints concerning proceedings that are still pending are only permitted if either the duration of said proceedings gives rise to criticism or procedural grievances have been brought to light that cannot, or not fully, be repaired by the legal remedies in hand.
Complaints regarding grievances or abuses on the part of organs or institutions of the European Union may be addressed to the European Ombudsman.
Investigations by the Ombudsman Board
The Ombudsman Board is under the obligation to investigate every complaint and inform the complainant(s) of the result of its investigation and any measures taken. Complaints can be made free of charge. The Ombudman Board is, however, also empowered to take action of its own accord.
Its investigations may cover all aspects of public administration including that part of the administration in which the Federal Government acts like a private business (e.g. procurement, subsidies etc.). Since this sector is subject to the courts of civil law concerning legal protection so that the Constitutional and Administrative Courts have no jurisdiction over it, the power of control of the Ombudsman Board is of special importance.
The Ombudsman Board is, however, not entitled to deal with court decisions, nor can it handle legal matters that may arise between private individuals or private companies In the course of its investigations, the Ombudman Board may demand access to all requisite documentation and seek evidence of its own accord. If a grievance is found, the Board may issue recommendations which the institution under investigation has to comply with within eight weeks or state its reasons for not following the Board’s recommendations.
Reports to Parliament and Other Activities of the Ombudsman Board
The Ombudsman Board reports annually to the National and Federal Councils, and its three members have the right to attend deliberations on the Reports of the Ombudsman Board in both the National and the Federal Council and their committees and sub-committees. They have also the right to attend debates regarding the chapter of the Federal Budget relating to the Ombudsman Board and its office.
The Ombudsman Board can also be called upon when petitions and citizens’ initiatives are being discussed.
By advising and making suggestions to the legislators the Ombudsman Board makes an important contribution to the evolution of law. It is also empowered to request the Constitutional Court to repeal regulations.
Its particular strength lies, amongst other things, in the fact that the general public is strongly aware of its activities, in particular on account of its own television programme.
The Election of the Three members
The members of the Ombudman Board are elected by the National Council on the basis of a list proposed by its Main Committee. Proposals may made by the three parties with the largest number of parliamentary seats. The members of the Ombudsman Board are independent and cannot be voted out of office. They can, however, like members of the Federal Government, be impeached before the Constitutional Court for violation of the law in the performance of their official duties. It is up to the National Council to decide whether impeachment charges shall be brought against a member of the Ombudsman Board. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court may pronounce a forfeiture of office of the respective member. The term of office of the members of the Ombudsman Board is six years and they may be re-elected once for another six-year period.