12 November 2012

Rwanda: Ombudsman Urged to Catch 'Big Fish'

Rwanda's fight against graft has seen the country named the least corrupt in the region. According to the East African Bribery Index 2012 launched in September, Burundi was ranked second least corrupt, Kenya third, while Tanzania and Uganda took the fourth and fifth positions respectively.

The fight has also seen the Ombudsman's office make significant progress, convicting a total of 179 individuals on corruption related crimes. Among them, 81 are farmers, 18 are low-ranked police officers and 17 are traders. Others on the list are 14 local defense force officers and 11 Gacaca court judges plus car and motor drivers, private security officers, eight local leaders at sector level, cleaners as well EWSA and RRA agents.

They were arrested for taking bribes of between Frw 2,000 up to Frw 5 million. The fact that they are all low-level people and that the bribes involved are relatively small, has caused many to question the Ombudsman's report, released in June.

MP Emmanuel Mudidi, for example, wondered why only 'small fish' were reportedly convicted. "Drivers, cleaners, local defense forces, low police officers? Does it mean that there are no corruption cases at the highest levels of our leadership?" he asked recently during a meeting between the Ombudsman Aloysie Cyanzayire and lawmakers.

Mudidi's worries were shared by other members of parliament, who asked that some answers be given. "I don't think that for a whole a year no big fish, not even a mayor, has been arrested or implicated in corruption-related acts. I can tell you names of very corrupt officials that do not appear anywhere in this report," an MP, who requested anonymity, told The Rwanda Focus.

In reply, Cyanzayire explained that the bigger fish are hard to catch due to the complexity of the corruption cases they are involved in, and blamed the huge amounts of money invested and protection mechanisms they use.

"Saying that there are no corruption cases at the highest level of leadership would be a naked lie; I cannot assure you that there is zero corruption among high officials," she told the lawmakers. "But the fact that we have been able to grab only the small ones is because they are the ones we, in collaboration with our prosecution and security officers, are able to arrest and find all the evidence implicating them."

"The big fish are very wealthy people with all the resources to protect their image by all means," Cyanzayire added. "They are not easy to catch as they use meticulous technical methods to hide their corrupt acts. To be able to get information about such cases requires intensive investigation but we are on track."

According to the Ombudsman, corruption cases involving huge amounts of cash are further complicated because they are rarely reported. "Everyone involved is either paid or terrified by the power of the ringleaders and prefer to keep quiet rather than suffer the wrath of the high and mighty. That's why for small names with small amounts, people report the cases easily," Cyanzayire stated.

Ask whether this means that the mean 'big fish' will never be caught, Cyanzire said her office is still studying mechanisms to deal with such cases.

Recently, prosecutor general Martin Ngonga said that it is misleading to talk about senior government officials in accountability issues. "They (high officials-ministers) don't manage resources. They are not budget managers and therefore not responsible for financial misconduct in their respective entities. Only permanent secretaries are responsible," he said.


However, some top government officials have previously faced corruption allegations and been convicted. According to the prosecutor general's office, at least 75 officials have in the past been convicted for embezzling Frw 383.2 million and their sentences ranged between six months and eight years.

The big names include the former mayor of the Kigali city and state minister of education Theoneste Mutsindashyaka, the former director of the national institute of statistics Louis Munyakazi, the former executive secretary of the Eastern Province Charles Gasana, the former permanent secretary in the ministry of infrastructure Vincent Gatwabuyenge and various mayors.

More recently, in July, the former PS in the Ministry of local government Cyrille Turatsinze appeared in court for allegedly soliciting a bribe of Frw 2 million from a business man, but he was acquitted. Another former PS in the ministry of education, Justin Nsengimana, was accused of a similar facts and fled the country.

In 2009, the former PS in the infrastructure ministry, Vincent Gatwabuyenge, was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling hundreds of millions of state funds. He was charged with six other officials: Faustin Gacinya (former director of finance in the same ministry), Eliab Munyemana, Jean Bosco Habyarimana and Jean Ngarambe, who were also found guilty and subsequently sentenced to different jail terms ranging between two and six years. Habyarimana and Ngarambe were handed the highest punishment of six years in prison for forging documents and embezzling funds, and orderedto pay a fine of Frw 1.172 billion, an amount double what government had lost.

The prosecution recently announced it had brought 342 public officials to court for causing massive financial losses to the government through fraud, illegal awarding of tenders and mismanagement of public assets, between 2007 and 2010.

Public officials' morality raises MPs concern

The office of the ombudsman is investigating some high-ranking officials accused of getting pregnant and then abandoning women who are not their wives. Aloysie Cyanzayire made the revelation during the presentation of the Ombudsman office's achievements for the fiscal year 2011-12.

"The office of the ombudsman has been following up on 35 cases regarding the behavior of some high officials. The main issues reported are refusal to recognize children outside wedlock, and others involved with prostitutes or in extramarital affairs," Cyanzayire told lawmakers last week.

But Cyanzayire's declaration raised lawmakers concerns who said a study on Rwanda's officials' behaviors might not be simple. MP Theobald Mporanyi, for instance wondered how the Ombudsman's office got its information.

Cyanzayire responded that they gather information from different confidential sources countrywide. "After we have compiled our information, we ask the officials in question for their reply to the accusations. Sometimes, they admit it without further complaints. In other cases, especially children outside wedlock, the cases are in court and what we do is recommending a DNA test," she said.

As to officials involved with prostitutes, the ombudsman said there are those who admit it and others maintain their innocence until confronted with proof.

"When an official is found guilty of being involved in such behavioral misconduct, he is given a warning or administrative measures are taken," she said.

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