3 February 2013

Rwanda: Should Leaders' Spouse and Children Compete for Public Tenders?

Recently members of the standing committee on budget and national patrimony in the chamber of deputies of Parliament started debating amendments to the Leadership Code.

Children and spouses of leaders will be allowed to do business with the government if amendments proposed by Cabinet in the draft organic law modifying the organic law of 2008 on the leadership code of conduct are passed.

Lawmakers suggest this modification was needed for eliminating ambiguities and merging some provisions aimed at making them clearer, filling in gaps and adapting the law to the current situation and context.

In the 2008 law, Articles 14 and 15 prohibit leaders, their spouses and children from engaging in commercial activities with government such as competing for public tenders. The amendments seek to remove that restriction for the latter. According to the explanatory note, the prohibition delays investment and infringes their rights in case they were practicing or intending to practice commercial activities prior to the appointments.

Article 17 prohibits leaders from taking up leadership positions in associations and non-governmental organizations. The new bill seeks to modify this article as well and the review of the law mainly aims at removing ambiguities in the present law.

On January 24, the Minister in the President's Office, Venantie Tugireyezu, said what government and other stakeholders want is to provide standards and guidelines to be adhered to by high ranking and senior officials to have leaders of integrity who are exemplary and trusted by the population.

The minister explained that, in the course of application, some of the provisions were ambiguous, outdated and difficult to be evaluated or implemented.

The new draft organic law empowers institutions to set up their own rules, while complying with general guidelines to be set up by the Office of the Ombudsman. The law shall apply to heads of public institutions, government services and institutions governed by statutes, or people holding political offices.

Village heads

MP Abbas Mukama, the deputy chairman of the Committee, and other MPs stressed that there is a need for clarity on the limits in terms of leaders affected by the law.

Among those affected are the High ranking leaders such as the President of the Republic, Speakers of parliament both chambers, President, Chief justice and Premier. These include also other senior officials like cabinet members, lawmakers (Senators and deputies), judges of the Supreme Court, etc.

However, the debate continues on whether the Village heads (local leaders) should be included, as lawmakers argue that it is the grassroots administrative level leaders that interact most with the citizens.

Leaders at different levels, who talked to The Rwanda Focus, said that if procurement laws and procedures are not flouted, there is no reason why a leader's spouse or children who are in business should not be allowed to compete in public tenders.

Others think that leaders' relatives should be allowed because when they are active and succeed, their families progress and it gives the leaders time to concentrate on delivering for their leadership responsibilities.

Yet a political analyst who talked to this paper thinks that 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.

He however said that he sees no problem in offering those leaders' spouses and children a chance to compete if they are not privileged with maybe information or other favors.

"But the question is, what makes us sure that the procurement procedures were clear, understandable, unbiased and didn't favor anyone? This is what, in my view, the law should be based on. If procedures are clear and give equal chance to every competitor then it is okay."

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