Local Government minister Francis Kaboneka has appealed to Parliament to introduce harsher prison sentence for repeat drug traffickers.
Briefing members of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security on the country's status on drug abuse, human trafficking and illegal cross-border movement yesterday, Kaboneka said that drug abuse was ruining the youth and appealed to the lawmakers to enact tougher laws to prove the country's commitment to uprooting the vice.
"Instead of someone found guilty being sentenced to two years or so, only for them to return to selling drugs, the sentence should be more punitive and I suggest life sentence. That way, it will be deterrent," he said.
Kaboneka's call comes two days before MPs begin the process to examine the draft Penal Code.
The Government, through the Rwanda Law Reform Commission, embarked on reviewing the penal law in 2015 as part of efforts to keep the country's laws up-to-date, easier to use and more effective in deterring crime, punishing convicts, and rehabilitating offenders.
Currently, Article 594 of the Penal Code punishes any person who unlawfully makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotics and psychotropic substances within the country with a term of imprisonment ranging between three to five years and a fine of between Rwf500,000 and Rwf5 million.
Kaboneka expressed his frustration with the slow progress in the fight against drugs, which he attributed to several factors, including porous borders and unharmonised laws across the regional countries.
"It is a challenge for us. We impound the drugs and destroy them but we can't completely eliminate the problem. The geographical location of Rwanda makes it extremely challenging to eliminate this vice.
"For instance, in Rwanda, we consider 'Kanyanga' illegal but across the border, it is not. It's a continuous struggle but with support from the Police and the community, we continue to fight on," he said.
The Prosecutor-General, Jean-Bosco Mutangana, who also briefed the committee separately, told the MPs that, in dealing with drugs, there were still challenges related to culture, which does not encourage 'finger pointing' and some local leaders, both local and regional, who were involved in the trade, among others.
"Mutual legal assistance where we require cooperation on criminal matters is still a challenge. Some crimes, like human trafficking, are still emerging and we are still in the process of educating people about them," he said.
The Director-General of Immigration and Emigration, Anaclet Kalibata, in a separate briefing to the legislators, said his institution had put more emphasis on awareness programmes in local communities, schools and religious groups.
He attributed the number of known human trafficking cases to more awareness.
"Our staff were able move around teaching the masses about emerging crimes. In 2015, 60 cases were reported, in 2016, 198 cases were reported and since the beginning of this year, 44 cases were reported," he said.
"What I can tell you is that the trend does not mean that cases are increasing but instead, it's because awareness has been improving. We were able to train DASSO security personnel, taxi motorcyclists, held talk shows, went to schools and cooperatives in Bugesera, Rwamagana, Gatsibo, Kayonza, Nyagatare, Rwamagana, Kirehe."
MP John Ruku-Rwabyoma, a member of the committee, requested that such matters are given more attention since their importance cannot be ignored.
"It's frustrating. I think that such matters should be given more time, not just a few hours. These drugs are choking our children. We need to go deep into such discussions," he said.
The briefings will be followed by a countrywide working tour that will see the committee talk to different people about the situation before coming up with a report.