In order to satisfy citizens a decision is fair, government authorities should be able to explain it.
A man complained Court Services in Alberta Justice and Solicitor General paid inadequate interest on $5,000 he was required to deposit into a court trust fund as security. The money was deposited in the 1990s. When his case was dismissed twenty years later, Court Services paid out $2,007 in interest. He thought the interest should be over three times that amount. As an aside, any amount of money ordered by a court of law cannot be investigated by the Ombudsman, but this was purely an administrative calculation applied by public servants, not ordered by a judge.
Understanding how 20 years of interest was calculated did not lend itself to the Ombudsman’s early resolution process. A full investigation was opened. The investigator tried to reproduce the way Court Services calculated the interest, but couldn’t. Court Services only had policy and procedures for how interest should be calculated dating back to the final two or three years of the 20 year period. An examination of the rates used in this case did not match comparable bank rates over the same time period. Court Services could not show that changes in bank rates were applied on a timely basis to the complainant’s security deposit.
The authority accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendation the interest rates should be recalculated. Eventually the man received another $1,231. In addition, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General revised its policies on paying interest when funds are held in trust by the courts.
At the conclusion of this investigation the Ombudsman’s recommendations brought about both a short and long-term gain, demonstrating the benefit of neutral oversight to improve fair processes for all Albertans.