The Ombudsman programme can be defined as a 'measure of the quality of the state's services'. It first emerged in Sweden in 1809 and has proven to be effective in other countries as well, particularly when it has been implemented in harmony with the social and political stricture, judicial system, cultural and demographic features of each country. The programme is consistent with the modern practice of total quality management. But the Ombudsman is concerned with citizens rather than customers, and proposals rather than complaints. It is an inspection mechanism similar to ISO-9000 practices. The formation of an Ombudsman programme can be described as the establishment of a total quality management programme within the state.
The Ombudsman takes action in line with complaints and proposals from citizens and following its own initiatives. Its job is to investigate and inspect. Though the programme varies from country to country, its work usually includes filing complaints, giving warnings, orders and cautions, making statements to the media, addressing Parliaments, and issuing annual reports.
The Ombudsman;s office must be given all documents and information necessary for it to carry out its inspections and investigations. In Sweden, the ombudsman has the power to examine secret official documents. No fee is demanded for applying tot he ombudsman - a letter which includes the reason for the complaint and any relevant document is sufficient. The Ombudsman can also inspect all public institutions including high-ranking officers of the military, bishops, the Swedish church etc.
Forty-three countries currently have ombudsman programmes. But the operations of the programmes differs from one country to another. Ombudsman programmes exist in countries such as Ghana, Libya, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Tobago, Papua New Guinea.