The Third Chamber of Deputies was dissolved on Thursday as Rwandans prepare for parliamentary elections due September 2-4. The outgoing Lower House distinguished itself in many ways, ranging from actively seeking accountability for mismanagement of public funds and citizen outreach and engagement, to enacting crucial laws.
The following are some of the things that the Third Chamber of Deputies will be remembered for:
1. Rwanda set a new world record in women representation
One of the major highlights of the last Lower House is that it was predominantly female. When Rwandans delivered their verdict on the polling day around this time in 2013, they handed women a commanding majority in the chamber – an unprecedented 64 per cent. This was a first in the world, with Rwanda breaking its own record set previously in 2008 when women secured 56 per cent of parliamentary seats. Over the last five years, female representation in the Lower House continued to hover well above 62 per cent – with several female parliamentarians getting appointed to other positions in government from time to time.
2. Setting up the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme
Members of the Third Chamber of Deputies enacted the law establishing and governing the organisation of the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme.
Managed by Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), the legal framework makes it possible for women to take twelve-week maternity leave with full salary. Under the law, employers pay for the first six weeks, while the last six weeks of the leave are catered for by the insurance scheme using contributions from all formally employed persons and companies in Rwanda. Previously, many institutions would pay new mothers their full salary for only the first six weeks of their maternity leave, after which the mother would be required to return to work or take 20 per cent of their salary for the next six weeks.
3. Review of the Penal Code
It is under the tenure of the Third Chamber of Deputies that the country’s long-awaited legal framework that determines general offences and their penalties was passed. Unlike the current Penal Code, which has a whopping 766 articles in total and remains a collection of all offences and penalties that were in different specific laws, the new draft penal law, which awaits publication in the Official Gazette, has just 335 articles, leaving several issues to be legislated under specific laws. The draft penal law contains adjustments to the country’s laws on issues such as abortion, adultery, prostitution, as well as corruption and embezzlement. Notably, the draft penal code decriminalises defamation, a development that was warmly welcomed by Rwandan journalists.
4. Amendment to the 2003 Constitution
Today the country’s supreme law is known as the ‘2015 Revised Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 04 June 2003’, thanks to the work of the outgoing Lower House. Following petitions from at least 3.7 million Rwandans – constituting 59 per cent of the registered voters at the time –the now former MPs conducted a countrywide consultation process which resulted into the parliamentary decision to grant the people’s wish to introduced modifications to the 2003 Constitution, particularly on article 101 that barred President Paul Kagame from running for the top office again upon the expiry of his second term in 2017. The amendment was later put to a referendum which saw more than 98 per cent of voters back the changes, setting the stage for President Kagame’s eventual landslide victory in the 2017 presidential elections.
5. No unfinished business left behind
The just-dissolved Chamber of Deputies passed 315 laws and has not left behind any draft laws or unfinished business.
It’s quite an impressive job.
Of the 315 laws passed by the outgoing house, 276 have already been published in the Official Gazette. Most of the laws passed were in the area of the economy (51 per cent) and governance (40 per cent), while new laws about social welfare accounted for 9 per cent over the last five years.