3 June 2018

Rwanda: Govt Mulls New Technology to Recover Embezzled Funds

It will not be easy for people who embezzle or misappropriate public funds to hide their assets, once a new ICT-based system that seeks to integrate personal assets is put in place, an official at the Ministry of Justice has said.

The move is in line with strengthening mechanisms of assets declaration and verification plus investigation and prosecution of public funds embezzlement cases; and will ease the implementation of court decisions as the required information will be available.

Anastase Nabahire, the Coordinator of Justice Sector Secretariat in the Ministry of Justice, said in a bid to recover embezzled public funds and curb the hiding of assets by the culprits, the justice sector plans to link the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) with other systems in the country including the National Identification Department Agency (NIDA), the Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority and banks' system.

He was speaking last week during justice sector Working Group meeting in Kigali.

Once the system is put in place, the [alleged] culprits will not have full access to their assets, until the debts are cleared.

"In a short time, we will have capabilities which will enable us to ensure that a person suspected of a given crime, will be prohibited from selling or hiding them.

They will be given rights on their accounts for only accessing money to cover their necessities; for the extra money they need such as when they need to do business like buying a plot [of land], they can buy it, but it joins the list of the confiscated properties any time they still have a dispute with public funds.

Then, the assets can be released for the owner to use them the way they feel like when they have been found innocent, or have settled the debt," Nabahire explained.

Transparency International Executive Director, Apollinaire Mupiganyi told Sunday Times that it is a very good initiative because the major problem that people want to solve is recovering embezzled public funds especially for convicted culprits.

"You realise that many of the convicts often get sentenced but, the funds they embezzled are not retrieved," he said adding that the recovery level is still very low citing 2% recovery rate reported in the Auditor General's report for 2015/2016 financial year.

"Linking the ICMS to the identity cards, land, and even passport such that a person who misappropriates public resources, they should pay such debt they owe Rwandans," he said.

However, although he said that there has been improvement in the recovery of embezzled funds, more efforts should be put in place to further enforce the recovery of funds for the previous years.

Even if a person wants to cross the border to go abroad, and it is realised through the database, that they owe a debt to the public, they will not be allowed to go thanks to the new tech system, Mupiganyi said.

Nabahire further added that the new system will allow people to file their cases and be told the trial date electronically.

"We will continue to equip ICMS with requirements which can make people stop using papers. We are thinking about how to include electronic signature, and finger prints in the ICMS system, and as we move forward, we might include iris scanning so as to help us deal with criminals, especially at borders when they want to flee," he said.

From July 2017 to March 2018, a total of over Rwf616million embezzled government funds were recovered which represents 52% of the Rwf1.187 billion that needs to be recovered.

According to information from the Ministry of Justice, a database of people owing money to Government is updated every quarter and a list of 760 Government debtors was published on the ministry's website in April this year.

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