What’s new in the new anti-corruption law?

Following the clamour to transfer some of the penal sanctions from existing voluminous, and to some boring, Penal Code, which is under review, to sectoral laws, now a new law n° 54/2018 of 13/08/2018 on fighting against corruption is in force.

It is one of the first sectoral laws to contain the penal sanctions since the demand came to public attention. It was published in a special edition of the Official Gazette of 20/09/2018. 

Having the new corruption law in force is one of the biggest legislative achievements of the previous Chamber of Deputies, not because it is the most important piece of legislation, but the impact it has in society. 

As society evolves, new ways of corruption emerge, and so new ways of combating it must be periodically revisited to avoid any void that may be taken advantage of by the culprits.

To achieve anti-corruption systems, multiple approaches must be employed and strengthened at all national levels and in all sectors. Fighting corruption requires constant evaluation and monitoring of the implementation of existing policies and strategies to achieve best practice.

Equally, it requires the law enforcement to adopt and build on its provisions and those of other international, regional and bilateral anti-corruption instruments.

The goal is to promote integrity, transparency and accountability in society.

In comparison with existing Penal Code, the new law against corruption, especially in Article 1, aims at preventing and punishing corruption in public bodies, private entities, civil society and international organizations operating or wishing to operate in Rwanda, which is more comprehensive, elaborate and tougher.

Unlike the existing Penal Code confined to definition and offences and corresponding penalties, the new law on corruption envisages mechanisms for corruption prevention which apply across all sectors, namely public bodies, private entities, non-governmental organizations as well as international organizations operating in Rwanda.

To this effect, Article 3 enunciates a string of preventive mechanisms against corruption: “to carry out activities in transparency; submit a report to the relevant authorities; ensure that there is no corruption practices within it; present activities that were performed in the prevention and against corruption upon request by a competent organ; have a document describing modalities and timeframe for decision making; collaborate with other institutions in line with the required timeframe while presenting the activities performed or providing any information requested by another institution; and ensure equal treatment of clients and timely delivery of services”. 

Equally, this provision bestows the Office of the Ombudsman with the responsibility to prescribe administrative sanctions against the leader of any organ who fails to comply with the preceding mechanisms.

For clarity purposes, unlike the existing Penal Code, the new corruption law spells out embezzlement as: “any person, whether public servant or any other agent in charge of public service or working within public organs, an officer or an employee of a commercial institution, a company or a cooperative, an agent of an individual, a religious-based organization or any other organization who embezzles for personal or someone else’s interests property, funds or securities entrusted to him or her by virtue of his or her office, or any person who uses for personal gains, the staff under his or her authority commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven (7) years but not more than ten (10) years and a fine of three (3) to five (5) times the value equivalent to the value of the embezzled property.”

Most importantly, Article 21 of new corruption law qualifies corruption as a felony and imprescriptible crime. That said, no amount of time can erase a corruption case and that prosecution must take place until the accused party’s guilt or innocence is determined. There is no longer any time limitation for a corruption charge to be pursued.

World over, corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. Corruption is like a pernicious computer virus.

For effective keeping of corruption at bay, the implementation needs potentially collaborative efforts by the government bodies, private entities, civil society organizations, international organizations and individuals.

Corruption undermines institutions, slows economic development and leads to general state instability. Corruption weakens the very fabrics of society. Corruption perverts the rule of law and consequently the system’s core values are in a state of quagmire.

Today many countries have become a cesspool of corruption due to lack of political will to combat it. The new law will serve as an important deterrent to corruption.

Even if people may avoid corruption practices not due to ethics or moral values, but rather by fear of the force of law, the objective would still be achieved.

Another interesting development is found in Article 19 of the new corruption law which removes criminal liability for a person who gives or receives an illegal benefit and informs the justice organs before the commencement of criminal investigation by providing information and evidence.

This provision would incentivize whistleblowing which would lead to many coming up to report corruption incidences.

The writer is a lawyer

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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