The Ombudsman ear in Ghent, Source: City of Ghent

Ghent celebrates the Ombudsman service with a giant listening ear

Ghent celebrates the Ombudsman service with a giant listening ear

The ear faces the door of the Ombudsman’s office at city hall

Today, authorities in Ghent, Belgium, put a monument in front of city hall, commemorating 25 years since the Ombudsman service was introduced. The ear is 2.5 metres tall and it faces the green door of the Belfry building, where the ombudsman office is located. It represents a cheeky comment on the nature of the office – always eager to hear citizens’ woes.

The move aims to put the service in the spotlight, as well as its achievements. Since its creation in 1996, the Ombudsman’s office has dealt with 15,000 complaints from citizens.

The first Ombudsman was Rita Passemiers, who occupied the position from 1996 to 2017. Currently, Helena Nachtergaele is filling the role and a focus of her office has been the digitalisation and de-bureaucratisation of the service.

The Ombudsman’s report

The Ombudsman in Ghent handles complaints about the various city services and the police. Citizen complaints must first be raised with the relevant service and if both sides cannot reach an agreement, the Ombudsman steps in and tries to reach a settlement.

Furthermore, the office in Ghent publishes an annual report, tracking the major trends in public complaints, as well as recommendations for both the city and citizens. The latest report was published at the end of February and the most common reasons for complaints were related to parking, access to car-free areas, waste collection and low-emissions zones.

ombudsman earThe ear faces the Belfry building where the Ombudsman is located at city hall,
Source: City of Ghent

Many of the complaints were related to what the Ombudsman’s office calls ‘the battle for public space’. This includes parking spaces being taken over by bike racks or greenery and people being refused parking rights in car-free areas.

At the same time, a number of complaints have started to appear due to the fact that more and more of the city’s services are starting to digitalise. The last point has actually prompted local authorities to start a project to help educate people on how to use the digital administration.

For the Ombudsman, though, that would not be enough, as she has recommended city services to always keep a non-digital alternative. At the same time, in the recommendations section of the report, the office has also suggested implementing a walk-in system without appointments, as a good way to remove barriers between citizens and the city’s administration.



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