Bahamas’ First Ombudsman Speaks on International Ombudsman Day

Marisa Mason-Smith, the Bahamas' first ombudsman (front, center) with fellow ombuds from around the world

Every second Thursday of October, people, organizations, and countries around the world celebrate International Ombuds Day. This day pays homage to the important work Ombudsmen do and the crucial roles they play in institutions, sectors, and governments. This year’s Ombuds Day is being celebrated on October 12, 2023 under the theme “Diverse in Role, United in Service”.

This theme is significant because it defines the daily routine of the Ombudsman functioning in different roles, and remaining focused in providing the service each visitor deserves by remaining impartial, confidential, neutral and informal. The Office of the Ombudsman was established in July 2019 and appointed its first Ombudsman, Marisa D. Mason-Smith. The Office of the Ombudsman provides an important service for students, faculty, staff, administrators and all its stakeholders.

“It is with great pride and honour to be a part of a visionary institution that recognizes and values the role of the Ombudsman in particular the rights of all through its non-discriminatory stance of diversity, equity and inclusion. The Office of the Ombudsman is essential in Universities and as the University prepares for accreditation t the role of the Ombudsman is critical and significant to ensuring that conflicts are resolved in a timely manner and in alignment of its policies, procedures and protocols. If there ever was a time for reconciliation and mediation in accordance of best in industry standards, be it the public, private sectors and all areas and levels of education.

Today’s environment requires an Ombudsman who is a trained and experienced professional with the skills and expertise and be compliant with Code of Conduct and Principles of the the International Ombudsman Association.

Being confidential is paramount to the role and function of the Ombudsman. and the Office. The ability to listen, understand, guide, and direct its visitors to a resolution. There are several types of Ombudsman: Classical, Advocate, Hybrid, Executive, Legislative, and Media Ombuds, who are equipped to provide professional services in all industries. Ombudspersons are confidential, impartial, and independent conflict management professionals and resources serving in universities; governments; healthcare facilities; and a variety of other organizations. However, the IOA states that the roles and services of Ombudspersons are relatively unknown because of their nature compared to other formal and legal methods of resolving conflicts such as the official mediation, arbitration processes which are more expensive and costlier when litigation is involved.

Ms. Mason-Smith noted that Robyn Short, a conflict specialist and mediator reports that more than $359 billion is spent annually in the workplace of the United States. on unresolved conflicts. This cost does not include the lost time of employees who quit silently and or disengaged employees who are non- performing and non-productive due to unresolved conflict within the organization.

Unfortunately, it is difficult at this time, to find statistics and or cost to organizations that can measure this metric on unresolved conflict and its effect on productivity and or profitability in The Bahamas. I am sure if measured the figures will high as well,” said Ms. Mason-Smith. “So,
when you have unresolved conflicts, recognize that performance is affected, productivity is affected, and of course it creates hostility and tension in workplaces.

At the University of The Bahamas, the premier tertiary education institution in The Bahamas, there are continuous efforts and improvements to strengthen the work environment and workforce to embrace change and to ensure that disputes are resolved in a respectful and timely
manner. The Office of the Ombudsman complements the advancement of UB in this way and there have been many success stories.

The University is providing The Bahamas with a template on how to correctly utilize Ombudspersons in the country. Ms. Mason-Smith believes now is the time for the Government of The Bahamas to continue the conversation and as is appropriate to pass the Ombudsman Act in the Parliament, create a National Ombudsman Commission and or establishing Ombudsman offices in key agencies, for example in the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) or the country’s public health system. This would no doubt encourage and heighten the public’s confidence and trust in the resolution of conflicts; allegations, claims or grievances bought against employees, employers or a lack of policies, procedures and or protocols that may end in litigation.

“Not that persons are not performing at this level, but when you have that independent and impartial person, in compliance with the IOA, there is a greater sense of trust and confidence that every allegation is treated with the same level of priority and or urgency. Based on the calls and interest of the general public regarding this first Office of The Ombudsman established at the University is a positive indicator that organizations should consider the establishment such offices equipped with the expertise and professionals that will bring added value through employee engagement.

Ms. Mason-Smith is a proud member of the International Ombudsman Association, (IOA), where she serves on several committees.

More photo highlights below:

Marisa Mason-Smith (center) with the incoming and outgoing President of the International Ombudsman Association

Marisa Mason-Smith (back, center) in a working group at the recent International Ombudsman Association