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300 public servants to be sued over embezzlement

By The Independent Reporter

Justice Ministry reacts as Rwf3 billion is lost

The announcement in mid-September by the Minister of Justice of plans to sue about 300 people over embezzlement of public funds has come at a time when government is struggling to recover about Rwf3 billion lost through irregular expenditure. That is enough money to pay salaries of about 5,000 primary teachers for a year.

Justice Minister Johnson Busingye’s move comes amid rising concerns of continued wasteful expenditure and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions as highlighted by the Auditor General’s report of June 2013 to 30 April 2014. Already, the Ministry of Justice has released a list of government officials found culpable of corruption. More than 120 individuals who have been implicated by the courts are listed.

The majority of the culprits are local government officials and officers in parastatals who allegedly continue to bend the rules for their own enrichment.

The audit report by the office of auditor general indicates that there are persistent weaknesses in preparation of financial statements and many errors were noted during the audits. And what bothers most, according to AG findings, is the failure to implement recommendations proposed by AG office to some institutions.

“The high level of wasteful, unauthorised and irregular expenditure is totaling to Rwf 3,207,188,658 and increasing cases of fraudulent transactions where Rwf 1,092,490,786 in fraudulent cases identified since 2011 have not been recovered,” Obadiah Biraro, the auditor general noted in his report. The other concern highlighted in the audit report relate to persistent weaknesses reported in management of government assets that resulted in stolen assets worth Rwf 660,573,078 and idle assets not in use worth Rwf 1,162,132,816.

For instance, a tourism boat acquired by RDB at Rwf 308,134,375 in 2008 has remained grounded for 3 years since May 2011 and requires significant expenditure for repairs and procurement of a new engine to get it back into operations.

There are also concerns over the significant delays in implementation of government projects which has necessitated many to seek extensions in order to implement planned activities.  The AG report shows problems in contract management where implementation of 45 contracts totaling Rwf 23,729,538,334 was significantly delayed and nine contracts worth Rwf 908,562,999 were abandoned by contractors.

President Paul Kagame had said earlier while addressing Parliament that his government will not tolerate corrupt individuals and warning that those involved would face the law. The President empathised that not only should corrupt officials be prosecuted but should also be asked to return the resources they have embezzled. Anti-corruption activists have argued that in the past that unless the law empowering government to recovered stolen funds becomes operational, corrupt officials will continue to steal- go to jail briefly and later return to enjoy what they stole in millions of francs.

But minister of Justice said he is positive that the asset recovery law which the government is pushing so much will become a law soon and this will help a lot in recovering the embezzled funds.

The law has already been passed by both lower and upper chambers. Once it’s operational, it will give powers justice ministry to trace the lost funds beyond the first suspected person to their relatives or children.

Political observers say the Ministry of Justice is not doing enough to prevent public funds from being lost. For instance, there are already concerns over accumulation of cases lost in courts after state lawyers fail to prosecute suspected people due to lack of evidence.

In the year 2011/2012, civil servants who ignored legal advice from state lawyers had cost Rwandans about Rwf3 billion in compensation within government ministries alone. However, the minister said this is changing as many corrupt officials have faced the law this year.

“The idea of recovering funds whether it means selling assets of those convicted is the way forward because this will send a strong warning to other public officials who want to dip their hands into the public coffers,” said Jean Baptiste Rucibigango, president of the Rwanda Socialist Labor Party (PSR).

Most funds are lost through illegal tendering. In most cases, tenders awarded by districts have come under heavy scrutiny and have raised many questions because the tendering process is marred by a lack of transparency.

In some cases, a tender committee advertises tenders but then discloses the allotted budget to friendly bidders, which the contractors quote to win tenders in exchange for kickbacks.

In recent years, Transparency International has found Rwanda to be the least corrupt country in Africa and in the world every year the anti-graft body releases Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

The index ranks countries and territories from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) based on perceived levels of public sector corruption. Rwanda since 2010 has emerged least corrupt.

For instance, the TI report of 2012 CPI gave Rwanda a score of 5.1 points, ahead of countries such as South Africa and beating its East African neighbors by a large margin. Rwanda was ranked 66th in 2010 with a score of 4.0. The 5.1 score meant that Rwanda was considered one of the countries clean of corruption (above the 5.0 mark).

Rwanda’s President Kagame has said the country’s improvement against corruption and other vices in society should not be a cause for complacency. He says if the commitment against corruption is not borrowed by all Rwandans, the remaining pockets of corruption would persist.

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