8 November 2018

Rwanda: Districts Urged to Tighten Oversight of Worship Centres

The collapse of a church in Nyagatare district has triggered fresh calls for local government officials to tighten their oversight of churches, especially the standards of the worship centres.

On Wednesday a Pentecostal church in Nyagatare district, Eastern province collapsed, killing two worshipers.

The Mayor of Nyagatare, Claudian Mushabe, said that Good Foundation Church collapsed following stormy rains in evening hours.

The accident also injured 23 worshippers. Four of them were transferred to Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, in Kigali, while the remaining victims were treated in Nyagatare District Hospital.

The collapsed church was among hundreds of religious establishments countrywide that had been instructed by the government to upgrade their structures. However, it had been allowed to continue with operations after meeting the requirements, district officials said.

Now Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) has urged districts to strengthen their monitoring of church structures in order to avoid deadly accidents.

The head of Political Parties and Civil Society Organisations at RGB, Justus Kangwage, said that every district has a competent office in charge of monitoring construction and occupancy standards and that they need to do their job to ensure that no lives are lost as a result of sub-standard public buildings.

"Districts' one stop centres should have zero tolerance on substandard structures, especially buildings where many people meet," he said, urging church leaders to diligently respect building codes.

"We have to be very strict with building codes, especially for public buildings. Church leaders need to consult district engineers about their places of worship and always respect their advice".

In March 2018, a national campaign by local government authorities and RGB closed hundreds of churches and other places of worship across the country, citing failure to meet acceptable standards.

Majority of those that were shut down were found to be lacking in aspects such as safety of occupants, with some operating in weak structures such as tents or dilapidated buildings.

Upon hearing the incident in Nyagatare, Pastor Innocent Saturday Ntambara, the leader of Successful Christian Ministries in Kigali who was a member of a team that looked at churches' buildings in Kimironko sector during the campaign in March 2018, had some advice for the government.

He encouraged it to revive the March campaign during the current rainy season to ensure that lives of followers across the country are protected.

"I think what the government did back in March was the right thing to do when they assessed churches' buildings and I think these kind of efforts should continue. Districts, Ministry of Local Government, and RGB should continue their work to ensure that the law is respected," he said in an interview.

Ntambara also advised fellow church leaders to respect officials' advice when it comes to the nature of their churches' buildings because it is in line with protecting human lives.

"It is clear that people should respect the advice given by districts and sectors after their inspections. Followers should understand that they benefit more by adhering to the advice given to them," he said.

Asked about measures to prevent recurrence of tragedies in the future, Mayor Mushabe told The New Times yesterday that his office had formed a team to inspect whether churches that were reopened in the district after March's crackdown really meet minimum requirements.

District officials will today (Friday) hold a meeting with clerics to discuss new measures to protect people, he said.

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