Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Public Officials' Wealth Declaration to Go Public?

There is an ongoing debate between lawmakers, the ombudsman's office and different stakeholders in anti-graft war in order to see if it is possible to make wealth declarations by public officials available for scrutiny.

Normally, senior government officials declare their wealth to the ombudsman and their declarations remain secret. However, different sources suggest that a number of Rwandans would like to verify whether the assets were genuinely acquired.

For the information to go public, lawmakers have to be persuaded to amend the law in order to make it mandatory for the assets declared to be made public.

Officials from the Ombudsman's office believe that the fight of corruption would be more effective if the law made it mandatory for the leaders' assets to be made public. "The Office of the Ombudsman doesn't see any problem in amending the law to enable members of the public to access that information," said Jean Pierre Nkurunziza, a senior advisor in the Ombudsman's office. He stated that the fight against grand corruption is hard because finding proof is often difficult, a fact that the amendment of the wealth declaration law would help solve.

Till now, many of the investigations conducted by the ombudsman are based on individuals coming forward and volunteering information, which doesn't, according to some Ombudsman officials, contain enough evidence to sustain a case in court.

An MP who requested anonymity told The Rwanda Focus that currently it's easier to catch small people as they engage in simple bribery. "But those with big cash are not easy to apprehend, you have to have enough information," said the MP who supports the amendment of the wealth declaration.

He believes that making those assets public would incite some of the population who have information to come forward. "Almost every time, it's ordinary people who get arrested for graft and charged in court, but there are people out there know some issues we don't. Some of them think that those are only rumors, but rumors can serve as the starting point of a tough investigation. Who knows what's hidden?"

The anonymous lawmaker gave the examples that people in a certain neighborhood might know of a property there belonging to an official, yet then find that it is not included in his wealth declaration and consequently inform the ombudsman.

However, some view it differently. One of them is the head of Transparency international Rwanda, Marie Immaculee Ingabire, who thinks that making it mandatory for wealth declarations to be made public is not the solution in the war against corruption by high officials. She focuses more on leaders' integrity and individual values than the pressure to make their declared assets public. "Leaders must be honest, transparent and straight forward in the first place. We cannot achieve a lot when leaders are not honest," she said.

The fight against grand corruption is hard because finding proof is often difficult, a fact that the amendment of the wealth declaration law would help solve.

Yet at the same time, Ingabire has little patience for officials found to have under-declared their wealth. "They do not deserve to remain in public offices," she said.

Normally, the government imposes penalties on public servants who fail to declare their wealth to the Office of the Ombudsman as stipulated by the law. Among the penalties is the suspension of officials for either failure to declare their assets in time or under-declaration of wealth.

In the past years, such penalties have been imposed. For instance, in 2009, the ministry of public service and labor suspended 56 public servants, including senior officials, for such infractions.

Whistleblowers law

The 2006 wealth declaration law requires public servants to declare their wealth to the Office of the Ombudsman by June 30 every year and the verification exercise starts in July. Since July 2011, the process is done online.

In December last year, a law to protect those willing to denounce corrupt officials was put in place. The law stipulates that, for protection purposes, the file of information shall bear a code corresponding to the one of the whistleblower registered in the list of whistleblowers. Such a list is archived in a secret place and can be retrieved by the officer in charge of receiving information.

However, the new law makes it a punishable offence for a person to give false information to police.

The whistleblowers' protection law seeks to encourage members of the public to report cases of corruption as patriotic duty. It complements several anti-corruption laws enacted in Rwanda, and officials at the ombudsman's office believe that the whistleblowers law will bring more players on board and provide leads to corrupt people.

"Fighting corruption is a patriotic duty that must be embraced by all," said Juvenal Nkusi, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts, which scrutinizes the annual Auditor-General's reports.

Among individuals to provide annual declaration of wealth are: the President of the Republic, the Speakers of both chambers of Parliament, the chief justice, the PM, cabinet members, MPs (Senators and Deputies), generals and high ranking officers of the RDF, commissioners and high ranking officers of the National Police, leaders of National Security services, Governors and the mayor of the city of Kigali, district mayors, career judges, prosecutors and judicial police officers.

There are also those in charge of receiving, managing and controlling public finance and property, those responsible for public tenders in central administration, commissions, and specialized public institutions, local administration parastatals, public institutions with private management, institutions in which the government holds shares, state-owned projects and officials of those institutions, the in charge of taxes and revenues and other employees mentioned in the annex to Law n° 25/2003 of 15/08/2003 (Law establishing organization and functioning of Office of Ombudsman).

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