BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA
Years on, what is emerging out of the Ombudsman office implementation process is indeed very encouraging. Rwanda has a number of challenges as a developing state and takes the fight against corruption as a national issue. .
The Ombudsman Office as one of the good governance institutions was established in 2004 to monitor good governance, and has since taken an active role in investigating and exposing cases of corruption and has also taken a strong stand in requiring public officials to declare their wealth.
It has played a significant role in assisting marginalized people and citizens to seek redress from social and economic injustices.
Today Rwanda is walking the talk of Vision2020 and EDPRS framework. The government believes that corruption mortgages power for both the present and the future.
According to the chief Ombudsman, Tito Rutaremara, eradicating corruption should be more than just a point on a political program. It is a national imperative, if Rwanda is truly to have a dignified and just future.
The body is aware that combating corruption is not an end in itself but rather, it is instrumental to the broader goals of more effective, fair and efficient government.
The office plays a critical role in partnership with various government agencies and non governmental organizations to promote the rule of law, and to inculcate ethics and public service values among public officials to ensure that public authority is used for the public good rather than for private gain.
Various governance indicators show that Rwanda performs relatively well in terms of control of corruption, compared to many African countries.
The country has also achieved significant progress over the last years in terms of government effectiveness and transparency of the regulatory framework.
In spite of its violent past and fragile social fabric, various indicators suggest that Rwanda has achieved remarkable progress in terms of democratic governance in the last decade.
In its fact sheet on Rwanda, the Medium Development Goals Monitor states that the country is building up a culture of good governance, transparency and evidence based policy making.
In terms of control of corruption, Rwanda performs better compared to other countries in East Africa surveyed by the World Bank.
Rwanda has suffered from decades of highly centralized administration and bad governance that culminated in the 1994 genocide.
The latter left the country with innumerable challenges to overcome including the acute shortage of human and institutional capacities.
The Ombudsman body is an independent institution charged with the responsibility of eliminating corruption and abuse of office. It reports to Parliament and has the function of promoting and ensuring strict adherence to the rule of law and principles of justice in administration.
Why fight corruption?
Corruption is one of the more serious unethical practices that undermine public trust and confidence in government. Public officials can only reclaim public confidence by establishing a reputation of integrity.
Their power should therefore be exercised with the highest possible degree of propriety and they should not only avoid impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety as they perform their roles of public service delivery.
Corruption also has an adverse effect on the promotion and protection of the fundamental human rights of individuals. When leaders are corrupt they lose the confidence of the people and there is a tendency to violate certain fundamental human rights.
Corruption implies the use of political power for ends other than that for which it was created, which is to serve the community’s general interests.
Corruption also condemns entire countries to underdevelopment, foreign dependence and intervention.
The practice negatively impacts the economic growth of a country. When people perceive that the social system is untrustworthy and inequitable, their incentive to engage in productive economic activities declines.
The chief Ombudsman, Dr. Tito Rutaremara believes that the vice destroys the moral fabric of a society.
Dr.Rutaremara says that with the passing of conscience, social peace and stability are also destroyed. When corruption is not fought with lots of efforts, it allows organized crime and terrorism to flourish because corrupt practices facilitate drug trafficking and organized crime.
Corruption is associated with money-laundering and illicit international money transfers, which can be used to support international terrorists.
Office Strategy to fight corruption
There is no one sure approach to eliminating or reducing corruption. The strategies to fight corruption are as varied as there are types of corruption.
Through the anti corruption strategies utilized, the Ombudsman office endeavors to send the following two messages to the Rwandan public:
“Corruption does not pay” through the use of the enforcement measures and encourages the public to have “Zero tolerance for corruption” through the use of preventive methods.
The anti-corruption strategy that has been adopted by the office comprises three elements of enforcement, prevention and institution building
Doing something about it Enforcement
Enforcement mechanisms are implemented to increase the likelihood of corruption being detected and punished. Such measures are utilized and publicized to ensure that the public is aware that public officials who engage in corruption can be punished and to deter other public officials from engaging in unethical conduct.
The body uses the following enforcement measures to curb corruption in public offices:
OMBUDSMAN office is empowered to investigate and inquire into cases of corruption and abuse of office or authority. In promoting the rule of law and natural justice in public bodies, the office investigates complaints of mal-administration.
The body uses several methods to enhance public awareness about corruption and its negative impact, thereby empowering the public to participate in the fight against corruption.
Reports indicate that the 2007 investment climate statement for Rwanda also supports the view that corruption in Rwanda is not as widespread as in many other African countries. Independent firms have not identified corruption as a major obstacle for investment.
There have been instances of petty corruption reported by businessmen in the clearing process, but almost none in transfers, dispute settlement, regulatory system, and taxation and performance requirements.
In partnership with local administration resolved citizens complaints in public and the citizens played a vital role in solving them. The office received 1569 complaints and among which 1314 were solved and 255 are still pending.
In prevention of injustices, corruption and other related offences in public institutions, the office monitored whether such institutions respect laws governing them, whether such laws do not have loopholes that can give room for injustices, corruption and other related offences and if such institutions have mechanisms of control and accountability.
There was monitoring of eight ministries, six government institutions, all provinces, 16 districts, 74 sectors and 322 cells. the office of the Ombudsman equally investigated 462 cases of corruption and other related offences.
The activity of distributing, receiving and verifying declaration of assets to all was also carried out by the office. it is in this perspective that 4929 forms of declaration of assets were distributed, 4478 were returned to the office equivalent to 91% whereas 451 equivalent to 9% did not return them.
The office verified the declared assets of 227 persons in the year 2008.
In order for the office to render better services, their staffs were provided with various study tours and trainings relevant to their daily duties. The office has also participated in international meetings with other Ombudsman institutions.
Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has gone through a painful process of reconstruction, including rebuilding the whole governance systems, structures and institutions. Rwanda performs relatively well in terms of government effectiveness, compared to several of its neighbours.
The fight against corruption is one of the government’s official priorities and the media consistently reports on the government “aggressive” stand against corruption.
Giving and accepting a bribe is a criminal act penalized by law. A local firm cannot deduct a bribe to a foreign official from taxes, as such practices are penalised in Rwanda.
Measures and Institutions
At the national level, government has undertaken a number of anti-corruption measures, focusing from 1997 on strengthening the legal and institutional framework against corruption.
In a way to achieve development without giving a chance to corruption officials, major reforms have been made since the establishment of a number of government institutions particularly focusing on corruption-related issues.
Besides the Ombudsman office, there are other institutions playing anti-corruption work. They include the Rwanda Revenue Authority, the Auditor General, the Procurement Authority and the National Tender Board.
These institutions identify corruption cases and the police conduct investigations while prosecution does the prosecutorial proceedings.
Others include the Rwanda development board (RDB) and the Rwandan Privatisation Secretariat in charge of government institutions and public goods privatisation; National Bureau of Standards in charge of the quality of different types of importation in the country and the National Examination Council prepares and corrects different tests.
Rwanda established an Ombudsman’s office that monitors transparency and compliance to regulation in all governmental sectors.
The Ombudsman has taken a strong stand against corruption and regularly exposes cases of fraud, malpractice and corruption.
The body deals with corruption at the top, mid and low level throughout the country. The National Assembly also takes an active role in investigating public officials.
Reports state that, corruption rates in the country declined following the removal of corrupt leaders in the last few years. additional training and supervision, and the decentralisation process have played a central role in lowering the corruption rate in the country.
The government adopted a code of conduct and rules of disclosure for public officials. Asset declarations for politicians and civil servants in Rwanda were adopted by the 2003 constitution, requiring public officials to declare their wealth.
In terms of the transparency of the regulatory system, independent reports assert that the government uses transparent policies and effective laws.
In the year 2008, in prevention of injustice, corruption and other related offences, the office of the Ombudsman organised trainings for local leaders, committees of mediators, citizens, youth, non governmental organisations and the media.
They were sensitised to reject, denounce injustice and corruption and render better service accordingly.
Societies that have decided to combat corruption have managed to reduce it to minimum levels. It requires the political will of all parties involved but, above all, society’s attitude is critical.
To be more efficient, the office carried out research work aiming at evaluating the nature and rate of corruption in local levels of administration and the country as well as evaluating the role of its activities.
Such research is expected to help the office to know which sector needs more effort.
Rightly, Rwanda’s leadership are jealously guarding the ownership of the fight against corruption which is a unique initiative that clearly offers Rwandans the opportunity to initiate substantial governance reforms.
The political will is available with a zero tolerance to corruption and policies in place to deal with the vice which lightens the future of Rwanda as the country now in process of implementing EDPRS programs.