THE Chamber of Deputies is gearing up for its final year in office with the elections slated in 2013. In this year, legislators have been busy, with dozens of bills passed and also engaged with routine oversight activities. The New Times' James Karuhanga last week caught up with the Speaker Rose Mukantabana, who talked about the achievements registered by the Lower House in 2012, challenges, and the contentious debate surrounding the new labour law.
Below are the excerpts:
The New Times (TNT): Speaker, as the year 2012 comes to an end, what in your view are the House's biggest achievements?
Rose Mukantabana (RM): The achievements are in relation to the mandate of Parliament; basically it's about the passing of laws and our oversight responsibility. With respect to the first mission (of passing laws), I think our parliament is number one in the world with regard to the amount of legislations passed in a single year.
This year alone, a total of 80 laws were passed by the Chamber of Deputies.
Some of them have already been published in the Official Gazette, while others are still in the [cleaning] process. Please note that some bills (organic laws) are considered and passed by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Among the 80 laws passed by in the Chamber of Deputies, 35 have already been gazetted while others are either still in the Senate or at the polishing stage.
The reason I consider this as a major achievement is because Rwanda, as a country that just emerged from the Genocide against the Tutsi, we have to rebuild institutions, we have to rebuild our legal system.
This is the contribution of parliament; I am proud, as the Speaker, to have gone through all these laws to help the country in the process of development or of rebuilding whatever was destroyed, be it institutions or even the whole system, legal or/and institutional system.
TNT: Which laws impress you most among those that were passed in 2012?
RM: They are all significant because they are designed to help build the country economically, institutionally - at the judiciary level or other institutions.
Most laws relating to public institutions have been fine-tuned but also the laws in relating to the judiciary; particularly the Penal Code.
The Penal Code is a major instrument that concerns everyone, because we have the task of coordinating all things to do with criminality, we now have one organic law.
In the past, there were a lot of laws on criminal issues but they have now been merged into one law. You can have one Official Gazette with everything. It is a big law with almost 700 articles. This is a big achievement for us as MPs.
There are also the other laws relating to media which will facilitate media growth.
TNT: What about the achievements in your oversight function?
RM: We exercise oversight according to a constitutional provision, which requires the Prime Minister to appear at least once during each ordinary session to brief Parliament on the work of the Executive. This year the Prime Minister focused mainly on agriculture, education, health, and more recently, energy. These sectors constitute the wheels of our country's development agenda.
It was very interesting and helpful for Parliament. First of all, we want to know what is going on in the Executive. And then, it helps us follow up at the grassroots.
But we also met with three ministers; the ministers of foreign affairs, finance, and defence, on this issue of the conflict in eastern DRC. The information they gave Parliament was very helpful.
After that consultative meeting, we set up a committee to investigate the sources of the false allegations that Rwanda backs the (M23) rebels in that country.
TNT: In June, MPs from both Chambers condemned MONUSCO (UN Mission in the Congo) for similar allegations against Rwanda, and called on the UN to investigate whether the Mission was breaching its mandate by allegedly conniving with negative forces like the FDLR militias blamed for the Genocide against the Tutsi. What do you hope to achieve through the committee you have set up?
RM: We expect an added value because as the ministers explained, this situation in DRC is not a situation created by Rwanda. It is not even a situation that will be solved by Rwanda. It is a DRC problem but we continue to ask ourselves why the international community blames the situation of DRC on Rwanda.
Even as our government has explained, and provided a thorough rebuttal with proof that Rwanda is not involved with the M23 rebellion, the international community continues to say that it is Rwanda [supporting the rebels]. We want to go deep, as Parliament, into the documentation, reports and so on, and make our own analysis of this situation and, thereafter, we will compile and analyse every related information - the documents and reports from the UN, other international organisations and the rebuttal by Rwanda to the UN, and then ascertain the real problem.
We are not challenging the explanations from the ministers, not at all. We want to make sure we have clarity on why the international community continues to harass Rwanda, as a country, over this situation in DRC.
TNT: One school of thought is that there are external (western) players who do not wish to see the DRC at peace because that would put their own interests in jeopardy. What is your take?
RM: We want, particularly, to have a clear overview of this situation; digging deep will also help us, as parliamentarians, because through our parliamentary diplomacy we work with other parliaments and, maybe, other parliaments all over the world don't even know what the real situation is or what is behind this situation.
Through parliamentary diplomacy, and using a report by the parliament, we can convince our counterparts in different forums, instead of using reports from other institutions.
We want to make our own analysis of the situation and then meet other legislators, we can talk and tell them what the situation is, but based on our own findings. That is the reason why we set up that committee.
TNT: What is going on now? The ad hoc committee was supposed to start on December 11.
RM: The committee is working now. It is composed of eight members, senators and deputies. They are working together and will go through all available reports, all documents and all decisions, and make a complete report which can be used by parliament.
TNT: As the first woman Speaker in Rwanda, a position you have now held for four years, are there special challenges you personally encountered as Speaker during this year?
RM: Every job has high and low moments, challenges and positive sides. As I have already mentioned, with the number of laws we are passing each year, this is a lot of business, it's an awful lot of work for a parliament to pass over 100 laws in just one year. It means we have to work morning and evening, every day.
With this kind of business, you cannot put in the normal nine hours to go through all the work. You need to put in extra time, even part of the time that you should allocate to your family. So, you don't have enough time for the family. So it is challenging because sometimes you have to work extra hours.
You are working every hour, every day, on parliamentary business.
This, for me, is a challenge but I am not complaining, because it is the contribution we are expected of. It is my contribution to my country. If those laws could help the country to move from a situation of an underdeveloped country to a developed country, I will be happy. I will happily know that my extra working hours are helping build a bright future for my country and future generations.
TNT: Some people have said that women dominance in parliament has not necessarily helped Rwandan women through the legislation that you adopt. They point to the issue of maternity leave which was reduced from 12 weeks to six weeks in the new law.
RM: That's a misconceived perception; to the contrary, we are working hard to promote gender equality. We are promoting equal opportunities for men and women in terms of accessing employment, and their access to high positions in decision making. But we realised that there are some obstacles.
Maternity leave is a good thing for the country and the family, or for the whole world for that matter. Women are giving life, but while we are giving life, we are deprived of some of our rights because some private institutions are saying they cannot employ ladies because they say that when they give birth employers hire a stand-in, because they will be on leave for some time. Employers would end up paying two people for one position for several months!
As a result it became a big challenge for women to access jobs, particularly to access high level positions in the private sector. So, we said, 'how could we balance this principle of promotion of equal opportunities for men and women and the role of women as life-givers?'
We said, "instead of putting the burden of maternity on employers, we should promote the idea of creating maternity insurance fund so that the burden is not only bore by employers but rather be spread out to the whole community". That way, women will stand higher chances of accessing jobs even in high positions, especially in the private sector.
TNT: What about in the public sector?
RM: In the public sector, there is no problem for women. The concern was mostly in the private sector because an investor would say, 'I have to pay a lady on maternity leave every year, and I have to hire someone else to do her job in the meantime! So, it is a burden for me.'
TNT: So, a lady in the public service, unlike one in the private sector, can have her whole three months of maternity leave as well as her full salary?
RM: Yes, that should be the case today because the public statute has not yet changed. But we are trying to harmonise the (practices in the) public sector with the private sector.
TNT: Is there going to be a new law then?
RM: There is a new law on the private sector [labour code] but we want to harmonise both.
TNT: And in the private sector, how is the situation, exactly. What does the labour law provide for?
RM: In the labour law, if you are on maternity leave, you will take six weeks off and you will be paid 100 per cent of your salary. When you choose to remain at home, for the next six weeks, you are paid 20 per cent (of your salary) every month. It is planned that the remaining 80 per cent will be covered by the Maternity Insurance Fund, which has not yet been established.
There is a draft law, here in Parliament, on insurance in general.
This is general insurance but which also covers maternity insurance. This situation in the labour code will eventually be the same in the law regarding public sector which is now under consideration in the respective standing committee. But today, it means that in the public sector, they are still paid all the three months of maternity leave because the law has not been amended yet.
TNT: In the public statute a mother can have the three months leave and get two thirds of her monthly pay. Right?
Speaker: Yes. That is right. You do observe that it means that she is paid two months only, if you calculate that properly?
TNT: Parliament's global networks have been on the rise of late. What do ordinary Rwandans stand to gain from your partnership with these groups; for example, your recent election as the President of the African Parliamentary Union?
RM: What we get from all those forums is that ...most of it is to help in communication, sharing experiences and learning lessons from each other. We offer our experience, they offer their own and we learn, we dialogue, we discuss main issues at regional, continental and international level. Thus, the main idea is all about sharing best practices, experiences and lessons.
TNT: What best practices have you picked from others?
RM: I can say, for example, from the forum of Speakers of the East African Community (EAC) or the Commonwealth in general, there are practices with regard to handling parliamentary business. It is quite different from what we do here. The Romanish system is quite different from the Commonwealth system so we got some experiences even if I didn't go into the details of these experiences.
We realised that we can adopt some of these practices in other countries; they are so many, particularly the procedures, and their way of conducting business. Some are better than what we do here.
TNT: Renovation works on Parliamentary building have taken long. What has been the issue?
RM: The first challenge is that this building bears the scars of the Genocide against the Tutsi. It has been renovated, but not fully. It takes much time and a lot of money to rebuild it. This cannot be done just in one year. Every year we have to do something on it.
TNT: There is talk of a monument that is under construction at parliament; tell us about it.
RM: You know about the 600 soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) who came here during the Arusha Peace process (talks between former Rwandan government and the then RPF rebel movement). They camped in this building. And that's actually why this building was eventually targeted when the war resumed in 1994.
It was bombarded by government troops.
But also, these troops from the RPF who were here rescued many people during the Genocide and they formed the core force that stopped the Genocide in Kigali; they rescued hundreds of people around here.
The memorial, therefore, will serve to preserve this whole story of the Genocide and how RPF stopped the Genocide and the whole journey of helping to stop the Genocide.
TNT: When will the monument be complete?
RM: Next year. Most of the work is done... the structures, we are in the process of having the monument, and I think that sometime next year it will be ready.
We hired a local company to do the job under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence. The ministry is particularly involved because there is this history of the role of RPF in stopping the Genocide against the Tutsi during the liberation war.
TNT: Thank you for your time.
RM: Thank you too.