17 April 2018

Rwanda: MPs Start Scrutiny of Bill That Seeks to Tighten the Noose Around the Corrupt

Members of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday started scrutinising a new draft law on the fight against corruption, which seeks to expand the list of crimes described as corruption and toughen penalties for bribery related offences.

The draft law, which lists embezzlement among corruption crimes, aims to prevent and punish corruption in public organs, private institutions, civil society, as well as foreign and international organisations operating in Rwanda.

Under the bill, a number of crimes have been categorised as corruption, including soliciting, accepting or offering illegal benefits, soliciting or offering sexual favours, influence peddling, making a decision based on favouritism, friendship, hatred or nepotism, and illicit enrichment.

The crime of embezzlement has also been categorised as corruption, along with the use of public property for unintended purposes, misuse of property of public interest, illegal exemption, demanding or receiving undue or excessive money, abuse of functions, and the appropriation of unlawful favours.

While discussing the draft law with the MPs yesterday, the Minister in the Office of the President, Judith Uwizeye, said that graft and related crimes have all been categorised as corruption in the draft law in order to prevent them and highlight the government's commitment to fight them.

"In this draft law, explanations for corruption have been expanded while other crimes which were found in other laws have been brought to the draft so they can be described as corruption in line with international conventions," she said in an interview after meeting the MPs.

She also said that penalties against the crime of corruption have been increased in the proposed draft law, with offences that were sanctioned by one to three years of imprisonment moved to three to five years, those that were punished by three to five years in prison have been moved to between five and seven years sentence, while those that had five to seven years of imprisonment have been move to between seven and ten years.

"We increased penalties because we want to further prevent the crime of corruption, build a country that has zero tolerance for corruption, and really discourage those who still dare to commit the crime," she said.

Speaking during the discussions yesterday, the Deputy Ombudsman in charge of Preventing and Fighting Corruption and Related Offences, Clément Musangabatware, said that the draft law on fighting against corruption tries to incorporate everything that looks like corruption.

He especially lauded the draft for including embezzlement among corruption offences because it would help his office to follow up on it and further expose those who steal public funds.

Since the country's current laws don't include embezzlement among corruption-related offences, the Office of the Ombudsman was unable to follow up on convicts of the crime of embezzlement and expose them in the media like it is done for other corruption convicts, he said.

And because embezzlement often involves a lot of money, the Office of the Ombudsman would remain with cases involving small amounts of money while publishing lists of corruption convicts, a situation that would normally give the impression that the 'big fish' are not touched in the country's fight against corruption.

"Listing embezzlement among corruption crimes is in line with complying with the United Nations Convention against Corruption," Musangabatware said.

He added: "The list of those convicted with corruption will now include those who were convicted with embezzlement instead of having just petit cases on the list".

The draft law also contains a clause that proposes that offences of illicit enrichment and embezzlement will be imprescriptible under Rwandan law, meaning that they will have no expiry date and suspects can be prosecuted any time.

Musangabatware welcomed that move, explaining that "a lot of money is lost through those two crimes".

Several MPs welcomed the bill on the fight against corruption, with PAC deputy chairperson Theoneste Karenzi saying that the proposed law will help punish corruption in all its manifestations while MP Théogène Munyangeyo highlighted that it should be clear in the law that taking bribes is against accepted values in the Rwandan society.

Once enacted, the new law on fighting against corruption will repeal and replace the current law on prevention, suppression and punishment of corruption and related offences, which came into force in 2003.

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