Members of the third legislature of the Chamber of Deputies since the country’s current constitution was enacted in 2003 took their oaths on Friday to begin serving their five-year terms.
One of the 80 members in the new Member of Parliament is Juvénal Nkusi, the longest serving legislator. He has sat in Parliament since 1994 and was the Speaker between 1994 and 1997. The Sunday Times’ Jean de la Croix Tabaro spoke to him just before the swearing-in ceremony:
Can you share your long legislative experience?
It started during the transitional Parliament of 1994. We started from scratch—laying the foundation for democratic principles while at the same time trying to establish a base for development, social change, human rights, unity, reconciliation and justice.
For example, in the area of justice we established the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s Office. We handled the privatisation process, education laws, etc. It was about drawing a roadmap for the country.
It was also a very challenging period—we were 70 and comprised members from abroad who had come back from exile and those who had experienced the dictatorial regime and the genocide against the Tutsi. The laws at that time had been established by colonial regimes—so we could not base on them [to make new ones] because it would cause more harm than good. At that time, the economic situation of the country was also challenging with a budget of Rwf 30bn to cater for everything.
During the 1998-2003, the situation had improved and we could see where the country was heading. In 2003, we initiated strong reforms in justice, social affairs, and development and also consolidated laws governing institutions.
Since 2008 we got deeply involved in shaping a good business environment I can say that today we can see clearly the country’s destination.
Now what task awaits the next Parliament?
We are shifting focus to perfect laws. We have to refine the laws and even anticipate the outcomes. We now have that capacity to professionally study the laws. We have intellectual capacities with members from different backgrounds; economists, engineers, sociologists. That capacity will be put to use to yield good results.
By the end of the term of the new Parliament you will have made 24 years as a legislator, will you seek re-election?
Whenever you feel that you are able to serve, you have to serve. A Member of Parliament is evaluated first of all by Rwandans, and then by members of the political party they belong to. I always go through a serious screening process before I am confirmed on the list of contestants. So, I am accountable to the country and to my party.
The public somehow didn’t agree with you (the MPs) on the issue of abortion?
Abortion is a big debate worldwide, but in democracy nothing should be left out. Debate should look into everything, but people should not exaggerate. Why wasn’t there such a big debate when we abolished the death penalty—which practically saved people who did evil to the community during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi from death?
Building democracy is difficult. The community should therefore have faith in legislators. How can we pass dangerous laws well aware that we are also part of the community?
May be people do not know where a law comes from. We have been passing bills whose policies were prepared five years ago. It is in those validation meetings where an institution gets preliminary ideas for a policy proposal. We therefore, most of the times, work on ideas that originate from the public.
Some constituencies complain that MPs never return to them until election time
We are now 11 million people for 80 MPs. This means a ratio of one MP for over about 100,000 people. How would you meet them? We should distinguish the Executive from the Legislature.
The local authorities such as mayors, executive secretaries for sectors and cells are there to enforce laws and the decisions made by parliament.
It is true that MPs should consult the electorate. We have two field visits per month, but in most cases, we spend them in district council meetings. Do they expect us to visit every household?
In some other countries, MPs work from Monday to Thursday, then go to visit the constituencies and attend wedding and burial ceremonies. They also have support staff to follow up some matters on their behalf. For us, we individually follow up issues.
How effective has PAC been?
I was lucky to chair the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) since it was created in 2011. We managed to put in place a methodology which the new members will find useful in going about their work—it is something to start with. Otherwise there are not many challenges. I would say that Rwandans do not fear to express themselves.
How did women end up dominating parliament, now with 64 per cent of the seats?
That’s very easy to understand. We have 30 per cent seats reserved for the women and this was a political resolve expressed in our Constitution to improve gender balance.
Moreover, political parties are aware that you cannot have a list of male candidates only and expect to win elections. This automatically increases the number of women. It should also be noted that women are as capable as men and their ideas may be better than those expounded by male colleagues.
And what advice would you give fresh MPs?
They should know that they are representing the citizens and they should represent them effectively. We represent an image of Rwandans, and with different backgrounds, ideas and capacities, we draw a good line.