12 November 2012

Rwanda: Ombudsman's Office Should Be Strengthened


Last week, Ombudsman Aloysie Cyanzayire was summoned to Parliament to give some explanations on her latest report. More specifically, MPs wanted to know why the majority of corruption cases brought to court involved low-level people - farmers, traders, low-ranked police officers and officials and even cleaners - whose bribes were rather small.

As you can read in our cover story, Cyanzayire told the lawmakers in essence that the ringleaders in major corruption cases are too sophisticated, and/or too influential, to get caught. She was also quick to add that her office, together with the prosecution, was nevertheless working on such cases.

At least, you cannot accuse the Ombudsman of not being honest. But that does not mean that the reply is satisfactory. If the Ombudsman's office was created as an autonomous public institution (i.e. not depending on any ministry), it was exactly to give it the freedom to investigate no matter which official regardless of his rank. High officials should therefore not be above the law and be able to get away with corruption because of their influence.

However, Cyanzayire's replies to MPs show that the problem does not lie with a lack of will to go after high officials, but rather with a lack of capacity. As she explained, the big corruption cases are often well hidden through the use of ingenious mechanisms so that a thorough investigation is required to unearth the wrongdoing. In addition, through their influence (or payment) they ensure that nobody reports the case.

Therefore, lawmakers would do well to follow up their meeting with the Ombudsman by summoning the relevant Ministers to ensure this important office is strengthened. Not just by making available more money and staff, but also by finally giving the Ombudsman powers of prosecution - something which Cyanzayire's predecessor, Tito Rutaremara, had been asking for in vain.

They should also look into ways to set up mechanisms that make it easier to report corruption, anonymously, especially at the highest level.

While all of this will obviously cost some money, it shouldn't be difficult to finance a reinforcement of the Ombudsman's office. Only a fraction of the money that gets embezzled through corruption should be enough.

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