Civil servants obliged by the law to declare their wealth annually but fail to do so will now be penalised with deduction of a quarter of their salary, the Ombudsman announced yesterday.
Delivering the 2016/17 Ombudsman’s report to both chambers of Parliament, Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi said that the measure was directed at giving the issue the attention that it deserves.
Although more than 1,000 public servants have declared their wealth during the last fiscal year, Murekezi said some were not able to. He said other disciplinary measures had been taken.
“In 2016/17, 1,088 declared their wealth. Six people were not able to explain the source of their wealth and were investigated, three files were handed to prosecution, and another three were investigated. The Office of the Ombudsman recommended that 60 people who did not declare their wealth in 2016 are censured,” he said.
Murekezi also told the lawmakers that in the next fiscal year, the Ombudsman’s office expects to receive declarations of 1,500 civil servants and to receive the books of accounts of political parties with explanations on the source of their funding and how it was spent.
To file a case with the Ombudsman’s office, one can use a toll free number, file at sector level or use internet.
In total, complaints received in writing in 2016/17 fiscal year are 226. Of these, land issues top the list with 96 cases, issues related to unsettled court cases are 33; 29 labour and administration issues; issues related to expropriation were 19; issues related to other properties 17; social affairs related issues 17; and other issues 15.
‘New laws needed’
Murekezi also touched on the issue of embezzlement where he said that there was a challenge of going after those suspected of this crime since it was not within his office’s mandate.
“In international law, corruption has a wider meaning than what is in the laws of Rwanda. There is the UN Convention regarding fighting corruption where embezzlement is classified as one of the categories of corruption, something that is different from our national laws. This means that we cannot pursue embezzlers yet it’s in this category where you find the ‘big fish,’” he said.
Murekezi said that to be able to align the international laws with the national ones, the Ombudsman’s office had advised that embezzlement be classified as corruption during the reform of the law on corruption.
MPs raise concerns
Murekezi also reminded MPs that his office had the power to request the Supreme Court to evaluate or even re-try cases that are deemed unjust.
In 2016/17 alone, the Ombudsman’s office ordered that 2,981 cases go to retrial. Among these, 1,934 (64.9 per cent) were carried forward from 2015/16, while 1,047 (35.1 per cent) were new.
When Murekezi said his office would be looking into executing cases that have been pending for long, MP Theoneste Safari Begumisa wondered if the Ombudsman was not encouraging the culture of laxity.
“I would like to know why the Ombudsman’s office is taking on these cases. Isn’t that almost like promoting the culture of laziness? What exactly are courts doing?” he posed.
To this, Murekezi said that his office shared similar sentiment but that the Ombudsman only comes in when the petitioner requests them to.
MP Nura Nikuze asked for a permanent solution to issues that recur in reports.
“The Ombudsman’s report has the same exact problems that we also find on the field when we visit. The issues of contractors who never pay, the issue of expropriation, those of development structures that were erected in citizens’ land and many others are all the same. We need to find a permanent solution once and for all,” she said.