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What is Maladministration?

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  • Written By: Toni Henthorn
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Maladministration is a legal term that refers to a failure by a government organization, agency, or entity to carry out its duties and responsibilities properly and fully. Public maladministration may be unintentional or intentional. It may stem from inefficiency or waste, clerical errors or mistakes, incompetence, negligence, or carelessness. On the other hand, bureaucratic corruption in the form of bribes, kickbacks, bartering for favor, illegal activity, or misappropriation of public resources for personal use constitutes intentional maladministration. The definition of maladministration varies in accordance with the culture and political ideology of the society in which the alleged acts occur.

In the United Kingdom (UK), public service ombudsmen investigate complaints by citizens about maladministration and service failures, especially in cases where the complainants consequently have suffered financial hardship or injustice. The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) examines grievances regarding local authorities while the Housing Ombudsman Service oversees landlords, public housing, and housing associations. Parliamentary ombudsmen probe allegations of unfairness or bias, faulty procedures, service failure, and inappropriate or poorly handled communication within government departments. In addition, Public Service and Health Service ombudsmen provide avenues for citizen protest against poor access, provision, or incompetent delivery of public services. Ombudsmen do not handle issues regarding commercial contracts, government policy, legislation, or employee matters.

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Injustice as an outcome of poor governance is poorly defined. Hardships that qualify for investigation include unnecessary expenses or financial losses incurred by citizens, as well as failure to receive a service. Furthermore, some ombudsmen also take into account any distress, hassle, and inconvenience a citizen may have experienced and the time and effort involved in pursuing a valid complaint. Many investigations hinge on the extent to which a citizen has been impacted.

Nations of the western world define maladministration more stringently than other countries, largely due to their public service ideology that holds public servants as trustees for the common interest and welfare. As such, government officials are expected to be honest, hard working, trustworthy, and just. They must adhere to the law and attempt to perform their duties conscientiously and efficiently in the most cost-effective manner possible. Their official conduct must be beyond reproach, ethical, competent, wise, and honorable. Although public administration rarely measures up to this ideal, public servants who deviate from this ideology face charges of maladministration.

Research shows government maladministration is linked to several factors. A rigid, heavy-handed bureaucracy, over-centralized government, excessive reliance on government by the people, and widespread lack of social and fiscal discipline all foster an environment in which maladministration spreads. Furthermore, systemic corruption leading to maladministration prevails when high standards of official conduct and personal integrity are torn down in a society. It blossoms in an environment of secrecy, elitism, and alienation between the political leaders and the people whom they purport to serve.

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