Parliament orders probe into misuse of public funds by May

Auditor General Obadiah Biraro speaks during a panel discussion on corruption at the 17th National Leadership Retreat in Gabiro on February 18. He was joined by Marie Immaculée Ingabire, the Chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda (left), and MP Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, PAC Chairperson. Parliament wants government to urgently investigate possible abuse of public funds. / Photo: Village Urugwiro.

The Ministry of Justice has up to May this year to have investigated the misuse and abuse of public funds raised by the Auditor General’s 2017/2018 report.

The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, told The New Times that his team gave the Ministry of Justice a list of resolutions stemming from their own analysis of the AG’s report.

Their assessment, he explained, concluded that funds had indeed been misused through contract management, tender processes or even where there was a lack of value for money.

“At the end of October last year, we handed the Ministry of Justice a list of 13 tenders that were issued illegally and requested that those responsible be investigated. We expect a report about that in not more than six months,” he said.

Ngabitsinze said that his committee will continue pushing for action pointing out that last year, they had summoned anyone whose performance had been below 60 per cent.

“We were interested in knowing why this (misuse) happened, what mistakes were made and we also wanted to know if they can be corrected. We are also interested in holding those responsible accountable. It is then that prosecution comes in,” he said.

Auditor General Obadiah Biraro during a past presentation of his office’s report to Parliament last year. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.

By press time, Ngabitsinze and his team were on a field trip in Gicumbi District, where they intend to gather first-hand information on whether public projects were being implemented the right way.

“We believe that if things are being done right, explanations should come easy. If they don’t, then there is a void in how money is being disbursed and we need it investigated,” he said.

Disregard of recommendations

Over the years, the Auditor General (AG), Obadiah Biraro, has consistently criticised public entities for their reluctance to implement his annual recommendations designed to ensure value for money and accountability in public expenditure.

Last year, the government lost a staggering Rwf5.6 billion due to delayed and abandoned contracts, idle assets and payment of non-existent employees.

Biraro blamed the continuous mismanagement of public funds on incompetence, indifference and recklessness.

Prosecution is the answer

Speaking to The New Times in a telephone interview yesterday, Biraro said that prosecuting those responsible for the losses would go a long way in fixing the issues.

“You have to have enforcement. If you have not implemented the Auditor General’s recommendations, what happens to you?  There are rules and if you go against them, you should face the consequences. There is no way out of this other than prosecution. There is no shortcut,” he said.

Biraro said that leadership should come with accountability and those trusted with the task to disburse public funds should be stripped of these responsibilities and tasked to refund the monies they lost.

Unlike in the past eight years, last year’s hearings had another new twist.

The National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and PAC agreed the testimonies be used as potential evidence to further investigation.

Some district officials who appeared before PAC and failed to explain their financial decisions were forced to resign from duties following the power of PAC’s recommendations on administrative action.

The Spokesman of the Judiciary, Harrison Mutabazi, said that the judiciary works hand in hand with other institutions to hold those suspected of the vice to justice.

“The judiciary has always embarked on fast tracking all cases in that category and rendering judgment in reasonable time as stipulated by law,” he said.

Corruption related

Meanwhile, besides those mentioned in the Auditor General’s report, the courts are also dealing with the challenge to prosecute an increasing number of corruption related crimes.

According to the National Public Prosecution Agency (NPPA), in the 2016/2017 fiscal year alone, prosecution received 516 files that are connected to economic crimes. Among those, 373 involving Rwf4.5 billion were reviewed and handed to courts of law.

In 2017/2018, prosecution received 460 files. Files involving 232 suspects were completed handed over to the courts of law. The total amount involved was Rwf135m.

In 2016/2017, the prosecution took to court over 357 files in which 495 suspects were implicated in financial crimes totalling to up to Rwf3.5bn. Among these, 370 suspects were found guilty for their involvement in crimes involving Rwf3.1bn and fined them Rwf3.8bn.

In the same year 2017/2018, 188 individuals were found guilty in these cases. They were ordered to refund Rwf1bn and were fined Rwf1.2bn.

In the 2014/2015 Auditor General’s Report, the preliminary investigations are in the final phase (96.6 percent) and involve 95 institutions.

The President of the Nyarugenge Intermediary Court, Adolphe Udahemuka told The New Times that although all efforts are put in bringing those implicated in these crimes, the government still had a challenge of following up the money that it has won.

“There is a lot of money owed to the government from most of these cases but when the cases are over, court bailiffs are not sent out there to collect this money,” he said.

Udahemuka said that for instance, his court, which mostly tries financial crimes that involves little money, has won cases worth almost Rfw350m, mostly which is a total of embezzled money and the fines attached to the crime.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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