18 December 2012

Rwanda: National Dialogue - Teachers' Loans, Energy Tariffs, Health Insurance

The National Dialogue should, according to President Paul Kagame, be a platform aimed at uplifting the living standards of Rwandans. The President, who was opening the two-day Tenth National Dialogue, also called for extension of the dialogue across borders to involve non-Rwandans in order to achieve development on the African continent.

But as usual, President Kagame also took the occasion to grill some high officials for not doing their job satisfactorily.

Top of the list were officials form the infrastructure ministry who were accused of not compensating victims whose houses were demolished by German construction company Strabag during road construction between Musanze and Rubavu in the Northern Province.

The Mininfra officials present accepted their mistakes before promising to compensate the locals after verification of their particulars. However, the State Minister in charge of transport, Alexis Nzahabwanimana claimed to have visited the area and talked to everyone who was complaining on the issue. "They will receive their compensations as soon as possible," he promised.

Officials in the education ministry were not spared either after it emerged that some teachers found it difficult to get a loan from their savings cooperative (Umwalimu SACCO) because it hadn't yet received funds promised by the government.

"When did you receive money for the teachers? What is the problem? Is it a problem of lack of money or management?" Kagame wondered.

He was, however, told that Mineduc had already deposited the Frw 5 billion from the government to Umwalimu SACCO. But State Minister Mathias Harebamungu, who answered the query, did not know when the money was deposited.

"How can you be so sure when you do not even know when the money was deposited?" Kagame asked.

Dr Harebamungu was however saved by Finance Minister John Rwangombwa, who confirmed the transaction. It was later agreed that teachers should get their loans as soon as possible.

The President also wanted to know why the Energy Minister was charging a flat power connection rate to all Rwandans poor and rich, describing it as cheating. He told the EWSA officials that they cannot charge the same Frw 500 (monthly rent of a Cashpower machine) to the President and to someone who can't afford power.

"This is unfair. You must change this policy," said Kagame, a statement that was greeted with applause from the audience.

The Prime Minister promised to study the matter.

EWSA officials were also questioned on recent power cuts, where a participant advised them to try and make power sustainable because the cuts can cause a lot of damage to machines. In reply, EWSA's director general Yves Muyange said EWSA has been faced with a power deficit. "It was because the Mukungwa hydropower plant (in the North province) was partly down, but now we have fixed it and no longer power cuts," he said.

President Kagame also took aim at the ministry of health, questioning why apparently many of the poorest people have not yet paid their Mutuelle making it harder for them to access health services. To this, Minister Agnes Binagwaho replied that the ministry is busy sorting the issue out. "The problem is that during the recent categorization (to determine the level of the fee to be paid, ed.) some people were put in the higher groups and were unable to pay."

The president advised the minister to review the categorization so that everyone can afford medical attention. Meanwhile, the government (through Minaloc) will be paying for those identified as vulnerable.

"Access to quality health care for every Rwandan is not a favor, it is our duty," Kagame said.

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