29 January 2013

Rwanda: Leaders? Spouses and Kids Cannot Be Allowed to Do Business With the State


Last week, Friday to be exact, I read that Members of Parliament had started debating amendments to the Leadership Code. According to the article, 'Lawmakers debate leadership code', "Spouses and children of leaders will be allowed to do business with government if amendments proposed by government in the draft organic law modifying the organic law of 2008 on the leadership code of conduct are passed".

I thought that the amendment would cause some sort of outcry but I was disappointed. There was nary a peep from Rwanda's blogosphere or Twittersphere. Was it possibly because Rwandans were happy with the change, or was it because they didn't really care? I assumed the latter.

So when that time of the week arrived (when I start penning this column) I was about to write something about either the Malian civil war or the ongoing DRC-M23 talks in Kampala. However, the feeling that I'd ignored something quite essential kept creeping up on me. So, here we are; talking about leaders' family members doing business. And not only business, but business with the State.

One of the most talked about stories on Forbes magazine is an article written about Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angolan President, Eduardo dos Santos. According to the esteemed financial publication, the 40 year old is Africa's first female dollar billionaire.

Don't get me wrong. I have NO issue with women excelling in the marketplace and if she's earned that money legally, then she is to be commended. However, that is a big IF. According to media reports, it all begun when she won the tender to collect rubbish in Luanda, Angola's capital city of a couple million people. A tender that raises a lot of suspicions.

I will not pretend to know the intricacies of the deal and I won't make any assumptions because that is not my place. However, the mere fact that her achievements cause eyebrows to raise is unfortunate. Wouldn't it have been great if we could celebrate her success wholeheartedly?

Which brings me back to Rwanda. The fact that Members of Parliament are debating a law that would grant their close family members the ability to do business with the State is a huge conflict of interest.

Two Kigali District Mayors, when asked about the proposed change in the law, said "If you marry a woman who has a shop in Quartier Mateus, shall she close it when you become a leader?" When you have cows in Umutara, won't you sell milk? The point is that other people can do business, just as long as the leaders themselves don't".

Which brings me to my point. When the lawmakers promulgated the initial law, why did they insert that article in 2008? Was it because they understood that allowing close family members to do business with the entities that their parents and spouses led would be a recipe for influence peddling and corruption?

The rationale for this change of tack is, according to the explanatory note of the proposed law, because 'prohibition retards investment and infringes on their rights in case they were practicing or intending to practice commercial activities prior to their appointments'.

What leaves me confused is whther the initial law banned ALL commercial activities. When I did some research I discovered that the initial law banned only commercial dealings with the State. So, to answer the Kigali District Mayors, a spouse or child wouldn't need to close their supermarket because their family member became a mayor, governor or, indeed, parliamentarian.

So, if this is accurate, why move forward with this? I'm not cynical enough to think that these MPs are taking care of their own to the detriment of the anti-corruption war. But there are cynics who will. Let article 14 and 15 stay put. Don't fix what isn't broken.

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