More Nova Scotians turned to the Office of the Ombudsman with concerns about government services last year, but fewer of those complaints required full investigations, says the organization’s annual report, released today, July 4. The office reported an increase in referrals and reviews, 1,642 in 2003-04 from 1,417 in 2002-03. With a decrease in the number of cases going to full investigations, the ombudsman believes the public and government is receiving a more effective service from the Office of the Ombudsman. “We strive to promote accountability and fairness in the way government services are delivered to the public. For those people who are vulnerable, or who are affected by poverty, lack of education, or illness, dealing with a government agency can be a stressful experience,” said Dwight Bishop, ombudsman for Nova Scotia. “Our role is to assist, inform, and to promote the understanding that employees in government serve the public and are accountable for the manner in which they perform that service.” Individuals or groups with complaints about provincial or municipal departments or agencies can bring them to the Office of the Ombudsman for review. All complaints are confidential and are not subject to freedom of information requests. The office promotes mediation as a way to resolve issues. In a number of cases, complaints were resolved by discussion and negotiation rather than undergoing full investigations. Mediation typically takes less time and is less stressful on the participants. The office uses a method called alternate dispute resolution. The ombudsman takes the role of a neutral third party, encouraging participants to work together to find solutions to issues. All referrals are evaluated to determine if they are suitable for mediation or if they should proceed to full investigation. Mr. Bishop believes that mediation encourages a less formal approach to resolving problems. “Shortening the time involved in dispute resolution by using meditation ensures that problems are discussed and recommendations made quickly and efficiently.” More than 50 per cent of administrative reviews were completed within seven days. Full investigations ranged from less than 12 months to more than two years. The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency with a mission to promote the principles of fairness, integrity and good governance. Their services are provided free of charge. For more information on the Office of the Ombudsman and to view the annual report, see the website at www.gov.ns.ca/ombu .