Ombudsman to boost anti-graft fight team

More lawyers, experienced prosecutors, IT experts, financial analysts, and bailiffs are among the pool of professionals that the Office of the Ombudsman could soon hire as it moves to get tougher on corruption.
Lawyers consult during a past meeting. They are among the professionals the Office of the Ombudsman needs in its fight against corruption. (File)
Lawyers consult during a past meeting. They are among the professionals the Office of the Ombudsman needs in its fight against corruption. (File)

More lawyers, experienced prosecutors, IT experts, financial analysts, and bailiffs are among the pool of professionals that the Office of the Ombudsman could soon hire as it moves to get tougher on corruption.

A new law that gives prosecutorial powers to the Office of the Ombudsman and a resolution from the weekend eleventh annual Leadership Retreat that pledged to empower the office means the corruption watchdog will now have teeth to bite.

Jagged teeth

The Deputy Ombudsman in charge of Preventing and Fighting Injustice, Bernadette Kanzayire, said what the Office needs is capacity to implement what has been stipulated in a law passed in September 2013 that determines the mission, powers, organisation and functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman.

The law gives the Office’s teeth more jagged outlines to cut out corruption because the Chief Ombudsman can now order the Supreme Court to retry graft cases if injustice in prior rulings is detected and prosecutors working for the office can now prosecute corruption cases in courts.

Retrials for 34 cases at the Supreme Court level have been requested by the Ombudsman’s office since 2012 when a law that regulates the work of the Supreme Court allowed the court to receive some requests for retrials from the office.

That ability to request for the retrials was again highlighted in the new law that determines the mission, powers, organisation and functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Since the law gives us more powers, what we now need is to build capacities for our staff so that they can implement what is in the law,” Kanzayire told The New Times on Tuesday.

As she interpreted what one of the resolutions from the recently concluded 11th national leadership retreat that pledged to empower the Ombudsman’s office, Kanzayire said there is simply going to be more capacities brought to the office.

To be procured are experts ranging from prosecutors and bailiffs to financial experts and social media and other IT specialists,  as well as equipment they need in order to do their work.

“Fighting corruption is a continuous struggle. The face of corruption is changing rapidly given the advancement of technology and we need to empower our staff with capacities to deal with new crime trends, especially those that are happening in the cyberspace,” she said.

Jean Pierre Nkurunziza, the spokesperson of the Office of the Ombudsman, said at the moment they have 68 personnel, who are overstretched owing to a wide scope of jurisdiction.

He said the Office will need at least six more technocrats in each of the four major units of the agency; prosecution, state asset recovery, court bailiffs and judgement review.

Nkurunziza also said a new unit in charge of public petitions related to insurance companies and banks will be created, meaning the Office will need at least 24 additional staff in the near future.  

He said date of hire will be determined after consultations with the Ministry of Public Service and Labour.

Considering that the current financial year is left with just slightly over three months, chances are that the additional staff will be brought on board in the 2014/15 Financial Year.

Challenge

The Deputy Ombudsman said the biggest challenge for the Office is to be able to verify what those seeking justice or breaching it say because they use all kinds of networks that the Ombudsman’s office has to be familiar with in order to properly investigate their claims.

“We need to build capacity to be able to detect lies and hidden facts in the kind of information we receive,” she said.

The law that determines the mission, powers, organisation and functioning of the Ombudsman stipulates that the Office shall have powers to execute judgements, orders and writs with an enforceable title.

Rights experts see giving prosecutorial powers to the Office of the Ombudsman as a significant move to widen the opportunity for justice in Rwanda.

The chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda, Marie Immaculée Ingabire, said the Office of the Ombudsman will now be able to help some people who face injustice in courts as a result of failure to strategically make their arguments before the jury.

“We strongly support it (giving prosecutorial powers to the Office of the Ombudsman). It will help address the issue of errors in certain trials. Some people could be innocent but fail to prove it. It’s important that they have a place to go and complain,” Ingabire said.

When the law that gives prosecutorial powers to the Ombudsman was being debated in Parliament in 2012, the Prosecutor-General’s office said the changes were in good faith.

Prosecutor-General Richard Muhumuza said: “For us (Public Prosecution Authority), it’s more help that we have got. It’s additional strength in the fight against corruption because we will complement each other.”

 

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