Juvenal Nkusi, 63, has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since November 25, 1994 when the Transitional National Assembly held its first sitting. In fact, he served as the first post-Genocide speaker, from 1994 through 1997. The veteran politician, who has also been chairing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the Lower House since it was created nearly eight years ago, did not appear on the list of prospective legislators to campaign on the Social Democratic Party (PSD) ticket ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election. The New Times’ Eugène Kwibuka caught up with him to share a bit about his experience at the House, why he isn’t running for the seat again, and what is likely to be his next job in the future. Below are the excerpts:
Let’s first introduce Nkusi to our readers. Who are you?
Nkusi is me. I am the one you have been seeing all these years; a public figure who has been serving as a Member of Parliament for nearly 24 years. I am a Rwandan who lives in Rwanda, is married and is a father of five children.
Where in Rwanda do you live?
I live in Kigali and in Ngoma District (Eastern Province).
People also wonder where you were during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
I was in Kigali, in Remera precisely, but I had to move to Byumba (current Gicumbi District).
How did you become a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD)?
I signed up to be a member in Kabusunzu (Kigali). I was part of a team that prepared the initial manifesto when it was being created and I worked with some members of the party who were senior to me. It was on July 1st 1991 that the party was created.
So, you are one of the founding members of the party?
Yes, I am one of the founding members.
You are not on your party’s list (PSD) to contest in the forthcoming parliamentary polls in September, what happened?
What a question (...laughs). Well, I have been an MP for 24 years. I saw a lot of good things in Parliament and I saw the country changing and reaching greater heights.
I saw the youth growing up and I saw many good ideas being promoted. Given all these years I have been serving and how things have been changing, I think that it’s time to give a chance to new blood.
There should be new blood so that they can add on what we have done. Even if we have done good; we need to trust that others can also add something because you may find that we are thinking about the same things while the country needs new ideas from others.
They have a good and firm foundation on which they can base and build faster instead of just having one single pillar and keep remembering and thinking about the same things from twenty four or ten years ago, which might even stop you from moving fast.
Since we have a strong foundation, others can build on it and move faster.
So, you chose to step down and it’s your personal decision?
Yes, it’s my own idea. You have to analyse times and see that sometimes you have to let others play a role in contributing ideas that build the country. But it doesn’t mean that you aren’t there. You are around and you can see and listen.
It’s been 24 years since you entered parliament, right after the genocide in the country, how has the job been like for you?
It’s been good in one word. It strengthened me. By doing that job, I met many people, I saw many problems and I worked with many other people to find answers for those problems and those answers have been useful so far.
Given how the (post-genocide) Parliament started, one can only be happy about where we are today.
What memories from Parliament will be hard to forget as you leave?
I will remember how we started here (after the genocide). There was nothing; our buildings had no doors, windows had no glasses, and it would rain on us during a rainy season.
But people would still meet and legislate. Today we have a Parliament where people sit comfortably and the changes that have happened throughout the reconstruction process give hope that the best is yet to come.
But there are some people who have called this Parliament rubber-stamp that simply approves whatever government proposes, what’s your take on this?
They say that but I think I know why. It’s because many people are not curious enough to follow closely how our country operates. If they followed closely, they would understand that being able to agree on something is not a highway.
A lot of debate happen at many levels and institutions including here in Parliament before we reach an agreement. But some people have started paying attention and have started understanding the process we follow before making a decision.
People (who call Parliament a rubber stamp) don’t come to Parliament to hear debates about the law. Apart from journalists, no ordinary people come to parliamentary committee meetings and see how changes are made on proposed laws, how draft laws from the government come to Parliament and how they changed when you look at the final law published in the Official Gazette.
I once did a simple analysis about some critical draft laws that came to Parliament and I found out that many of them were changed. Unlike in many other countries, our system believes that Parliament plays a role in analysing and fine-tuning draft laws instead of focusing on mere acceptance or rejection of government bills.
In Rwanda, all ideas are put together and bills from the executive are improved, a lot of changes are made apart from the big picture, which lead to good decisions, good implementation of laws, and excellent results.
You mean people would realise that our Parliament works if they followed more closely about its work?
Yes, absolutely. Look, there are two critical steps: when a basis of a draft law is approved by Parliament and when it is sent to the parliamentary committee for further analysis.
In parliamentary language, approving the basis of the bill means that the idea is good and then its promoter is invited to the committee level for further discussions to agree on how to best organise the idea. For people to be able to appreciate this process, they would have to closely follow up on Parliament’s activities.
You are known for being tough on government officials during public hearings in the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee for which you have also been the leader, what motivates you?
Well, first of all it’s because it’s my duty; it’s a duty that you’ve got to fulfil. Secondly, those whom we ask about what they did are people who were trusted by the country.
Trust is precious. For a country to trust you with the management of its resources and you end up mismanaging them, as representatives of the people we have to stand up against abuse of that trust.
We have to protect our resources and reclaim them back. Otherwise, you have let down those who trusted you to fulfil duties that you didn’t fulfil.
Do you think some people don’t understand this and you have ended up making some enemies or you can still meet and share a drink?
You have to differentiate work with socialisation among people. But again, I think for those who did significant mistakes, I don’t think we can continue to get along well with people who abused trust.
We can say hello, we can talk to them but, no; our relationship changes because they have disappointed us.
But again, for everyday socialisation among people, I don’t think people should stop talking to each other because people have to understand that as leaders we aren’t dealing with our personal property. We are managing public resources.
President Kagame recently said that Parliament should increase efforts to oversee the government’s work, how can this be done?
Well, that is important. It’s the Constitution. The latter says that Parliament has two obligations; making laws and oversight on government activities. Those duties have to be fulfilled.
Think about how many Rwandans voted the Constitution and then understand that those duties have to be fulfilled.
Is there anything that should be done for Parliament to best fulfil that duty of overseeing government activities?
Nothing apart from respecting what is provided for by the Constitution. No further instructions are needed in order for Parliament to do it.
Once they take oaths to be MPs, they should just fulfil their duties.
For those who will remain MPs or are going to serve as MPs in the next Parliament, what advice can you give them if they are to succeed on their job?
They should be MPs. They should first understand the duties they are taking on. You see, they are 80 MPs representing twelve million Rwandans.
Having the opportunity to work for Rwandans means that you have to give them a good service; it’s quite a big responsibility.
How can one be a good MP?
It’s by striving for the interests of all Rwandans.
Now that you won’t be in Parliament, what will be your next job?
Well, the country is open. I will do whatever work I can afford to do in line with my age and my ideas just like any other people work.
Given my knowledge and will, why can’t I work?
You don’t have anything specific in mind that you are going to do?
The first thing I will do is to take a break but I won’t really be taking a rest. I will probably spend the first two or three months getting used to the new life and thinking about what to do next.
Will you go to Ngoma or you will be in Kigali?
I will be everywhere. I will be in Kigali because it’s the capital but I also travel to Ngoma very often.
Where in Ngoma, is it in Kibungo town?
No, it’s in a rural area. It’s a place called Sake na Rukumberi. That’s where I travel very often but I can go to other places too.