In this complex technological and democratic world, in addition to tribunals that investigate facts and apply laws to resolve specific administrative disputes, the formation of inquires that conduct fact and/or legal findings and provide recommendation to ministers or other agency heads to take policy considered action based on the findings of facts is becoming a paramount importance. Inquires are concerned with fact-finding directed towards making recommendations on questions of policy. The statutory inquiry is the standard device for giving a fair hearing to objectors before the final decision is made on some question of government policy affecting citizens’ rights or interests.
Contrasting to the difference between tribunals and inquires, two joint authors noted as follows:
The typical tribunal finds facts and decides the case by applying legal rules laid down by statute or regulation. The typical inquiry hears evidence and finds facts, but the person conducting it finally makes a recommendation to a minister as to how should the minister act on some questions of policy, e.g. whether he should grant planning permission for some development scheme. The tribunal needs to look no further than the facts and the law, for the issue before it is self-contained. The inquiry is concerned with the local aspects of what will usually be a large issue involving public policy which cannot, when it comes to the final decision be resolved merely by applying law. Tribunals are normally employed where cases can be decided according to rules and there is no reason for the minister to be responsible for the decision. Inquires are employed where the decision will turn upon what the minister thinks is in the public interest, but where the minister, before he decides, needs to be fully informed and to give fair consideration to objections… Where an appeal has to be decided by a minister, he must necessarily appoint someone to hear the case and advise him (Wade and Forsyth, 910-911).
In a nutshell, inquires, unlike tribunals, cannot pass binding decisions but, as their name indicates they inquire or search for facts by conducting preliminary fair hearing on objections raised against proposed administrative actions. Based on the results of the fact finding, the inquiry recommends the concerned minister or agency to take or not to take a certain course of action, although the latter may not be bound by the recommendation involving policy considerations.
Inquiries in Ethiopia
Having defined inquires as impartial fact finding devices that are established by law to assist decision makers, it deems now quite important to appreciate some of the statutory inquires operating in Ethiopia. Some inquires are event derived that have temporary existence that remain valid until accomplishing the specific fact finding assignment given to them by law. Examples of such inquires are the Inquiry Commission established under proclamation No.398/2004 to investigate the conflict occurred in Gambela Regional State on December 13,2003, and the inquiry commission established to investigate the proportionality of the measures taken by the Ethiopian security forces to control the post election crisis happened in 2005. These inquires were established by proclamation with specific mandate of fact-finding limited to space and time. Such type of inquires usually dissolve immediately after accomplishing their mandate in accordance with the terms of references.
There are also inquires that have permanent in nature. Inquires falling under this category, although they are usually with specific mandate, have permanent institutional existence. The following are prominent example of such inquires:
- The Council of constitutional inquiry established by proclamation no. 250/2001;
- The Human Rights Commission and the Institution of Ombudsman;
Anti corruption commissions established at federal and regional levels.