Ombudsman in the vanguard of a corrupt-free Rwanda

“The level of corruption in the country has reduced and I believe it is because the government has been taking serious actions against corrupt citizens - including high ranking government individuals,"said a citizen who chose anonymity. “People are more aware of the dire consequences of being corrupt and are therefore more cautious to engage in corruption," he added.

Ombudsman, Aloysie Cyanzayire

By Minnie Karanja and Steven Muvunyi

“The level of corruption in the country has reduced and I believe it is because the government has been taking serious actions against corrupt citizens - including high ranking government individuals,” said a citizen who chose anonymity. “People are more aware of the dire consequences of being corrupt and are therefore more cautious to engage in corruption,” he added.

Augustus Seminega, Director General of Rwanda Public Procurement Authority, echoes the sentiments of the citizen saying that apart from the Ombudsman, there are other institutions doing a lot of work in fighting corruption in Rwanda.  Seminega opined that the government is assuring the cost of corruption is high and continues to go high. “Rwanda is among the few countries where there are criminal offences in the law on public procurement. The law governing public procurement has provisions for criminal offences committed in public procurement process,” he said.

Indeed, Rwanda is globally seen as an anti-corruption ‘success-story’. A 2017 report by Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) and Transparency International – Rwanda stated that corruption has fallen sharply in Rwanda in the recent years and at a faster rate than any other country globally, especially African countries.

Recent reports have shown that Rwanda is among the least corrupt countries globally. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2016 ranked Rwanda 50th least corrupt out of 174 countries in the world and 3rd in Africa.

“I would say that it’s a good step that we have made as Rwanda but I believe we can do better. My wish is that we make more steps as Rwandans to fight corruption and I believe that it is possible. What is important is not to compare ourselves with others, but to assess what we are doing to reduce corruption. We may not succeed in ending corruption but we can do everything we can to significantly reduce it,” said Chief Ombudsman, Aloysie Cyanzayire.

In addition to including corruption and related offences in the Rwandan Penal Code, Rwanda has ratified major global and regional treaties on anti-corruption. Rwanda signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003 and ratified it in 2006. The country also approved the East African Treaty with its strong anti-corruption declaration. Rwanda is among the 34 member states that have ratified and are state parties to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC).

Globally, no country is corruption free; in Rwanda, it is still a cause of concern to the government and public. Rwanda’s judiciary, local government, and police are the sectors with highest incidences of corruption. This is according to the 2015 Transparency International Rwanda’s Bribery Index.

Furthermore, the National Anti-Corruption policy include public finance management system, public procurement, human resources management, traffic police, justice sector, land services offices, customs, licenses issuing, and construction permits issuing as the main functional areas that constitute potential risks for corruption.

The main forms of corruption in Rwanda include public funds embezzlement, fraudulent procurement practices, nepotism, abuse of office and power, corruption in enforcement and regulatory institutions and within the private sector.

Achievements of the Office of the Ombudsman

The Office was established as an independent entity in 2003 and written into Law in 2013. The Law (Law No. 76/2013 of 11/9/13), determines the mission, powers, organization and functioning of the Office.

Combining the responsibilities of a traditional Ombudsman, and those of an independent anti-corruption Agency, it has a broad mandate including monitoring compliance with the Leadership Code of Conduct, the collection and monitoring of public officials’ declaration of assets, fighting injustice and researching, investigating and prosecuting corruption.

The political commitment towards promoting good governance has been the driving force in the fight against corruption. “The main driver for the fight against corruption in our country is political will to do it. We have a zero-tolerance stance against corruption right from our country’s top leadership.  We also have legal frameworks and government institutions which work in close collaboration to fight corruption,” said Cyanzayire.

There are some specialized agencies which address corruption in utilization of public funds such as the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority (RPPA) and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG). RNP and National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) spearhead the investigation and prosecution of crimes, some of them are corruption related.

It is however clear that the Office of the Ombudsman is in the vanguard of the fight against corruption in the country.

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Ombudsman Aloysie Cyanzayire addressing the public in a past event

Evolved mandate and new Powers of the Office of the Ombudsman

Initially, the Ombudsman was primarily focused on the prevention of corruption through education and training and in-depth auditing of government institutions to identify procedural weaknesses that facilitate corruption. Before 2009, only the Ombudsman and two deputies had the power to investigate corruption related issues.

In 2016, the Office received one bailiff who is in charge of enforcing court orders in case other institutions in charge of doing it delay to deliver. The bailiff not only executes court orders but also requests that officials who delayed to enforce the court orders be held responsible.

In the same year the Office also received prosecutors to do preliminary investigations about certain crucial cases and go ahead and bring them to court without having to request the National Public Prosecution Authority to do it. The prosecutors also help investigators to do their work while building a corruption related case.

Following  are some of the new powers of the Ombudsman:

Power  request sanctions:
The Office has  power to request for disciplinary sanctions to be imposed against any employee whether Government, public or private who acted unjustly towards a person, an organization or an independent association, after written explanations and to determine what should be done so that those who suffered from injustice may find redress.

Powers of Judicial Police:
The Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsmen has   power to investigate all activities relating to the responsibilities of the Office. Thus, they are conferred the powers of judicial police. Staff members of the Office in charge of investigations, shall have the powers of the Judicial Police. The Office may request for assistance from other public or private institutions while conducting investigations that require specific expertise.

Request of documents, testimonies and explanations necessary for the investigations:
The Office has power to request for documents, testimonies and explanations necessary for its investigations from public, parastatals, private organs and non-government organizations. It may hear from any person and request him/her to give necessary testimonies for the smooth running of the investigation. The confidential nature of a document cannot prevent the Office from obtaining it.

Prosecution Powers:
The Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsmen have been granted prosecution powers for all offences relating to the mission of the Office. Thus, they shall have the powers to prosecute. Other employees of the Office may, after approval by the Ombudsman Council, be granted prosecution powers by a Prime Minister’s Order in their prosecution activities.

Powers of assets recovery:
While prosecuting offences falling under its mission and when public assets and other assets in connection with the commission of those offences have to be recovered, the Office shall have powers to file a legal action for the recovery of such assets. The Office shall also have powers to verify the recovery of those assets.

Powers to request for review of judgement:
In the interest of the justice, the Office has  power to request the Supreme Court to reconsider and review judgements rendered at the last instance by ordinary courts, commercial and Military courts, if there is any persistance of injustice. The reconsideration and review shall be made in accordance with the Organic Law establishing the organization, functioning and competence of the Supreme Court.

Powers to execute judgments:
Orders and writs with an enforceable title upon request of the Ombudsman or his/ her replacement, employees of the Office shall be granted by the Minister in charge of justice the powers of court bailiff with national competence. The Office shall use this competence if institutions in charge have not executed their attributions at time after written request by the Office.

Temporary Suspension of a suspect of corruption and related offences:
Notwithstanding the principle of presumption of innocence, the Office shall have powers to request the competent authority to temporarily suspend a civil servant, parastals staff, or an employee of a private institution or a non-govermenemt organisation staff, suspected of corruption and related offences. An employee of a private institution or a business person under investigation for corruption and related offences is disqualified from taking up a job in any public institution or bidding in public tenders.

Collaboration with State and Civil Society Institutions

Coordination of the efforts and activities for preventing and fighting corruption are largely done through the National Advisory Council to Fight Against Corruption and Injustice (NACACI). The Council was established by the Presidential Order No. 64/01/ of 12/02/2014 which determines the responsibilities, organization and functioning of the Advisory Council. Specifically, the purpose of the Council is to facilitate the exchange of information on corruption between the various anti-corruption institutions in order to prevent collusion and to determine their collective tasks and responsibilities and to adopt strategies of preventing and fighting corruption.

NACACI is composed of the Ombudsman (the Chairperson); the Minister in charge of local government (Deputy Chairperson); the Minister in charge of justice; the Vice President of the Supreme Court; the Prosecutor General; the Deputies Ombudsmen; the Inspector General of the Rwanda National Police; the Secretary General of National Intelligence and Security Service; the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Public Procurement Authority; the Auditor General; the CEO of Private Sector Federation(PSF); the Executive Secretary of Civil Society Platform.

In addition, the Office cooperates with NGOs and Civil Society Organizations whose missions are in line with its mandate. Some of the Civil Society Organizations with which the Office has agreements to exchange information and best practices are Transparency International – Rwanda, Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) and the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD).

Challenges and way forward

Low reporting about corruption by citizens

The main challenge the Office faces is the low participation of citizens in reporting corruption. Major reports about fighting corruption in Rwanda, such as Transparency International Rwanda’s reports and others, point to the fact that the level of reporting corruption in the country is still low.

For instance, sex related corruption is on the rise and is in fact mentioned in the perception index by Transparency International. However not many cases have been reported. In 2013, the Office set up a special desk to deal with this vice but to date no cases have been reported. Cyanzayire said that the few cases that have been reported failed to be fully investigated because victims refused to cooperate to build a consistent case against offenders.

“Although many people keep saying that there is corruption only very few actually make steps to report specific cases. Anonymous calling or messaging, suggestion boxes at different offices are some of the ways used to report corruption but many are still reluctant to use them,” Cyanzayire said.

Exclusion of embezzlement from the responsibilities of the Office of the Ombudsman

There is a general public assumption that the Ombudsman does not prosecute very high ranking government officials. Cyanzayire opined that the issue of “big-fish” not being investigated is more of a slogan than reality.  “I say this because when you look at people who were prosecuted for both corruption and embezzlement, you would find the big fish there which include people like Permanent Secretaries in ministries, Heads of Parastatals, and managers at the district level among others. It is because people convicted with embezzlement do not appear on our corruption convicts list, the public gets the impression that the big fish are not touched,” she explained.

This wide-spread perception emanates from the fact that the Penal Code does not define embezzlement as corruption related offence - although the Office of the Ombudsman considers embezzlement as a related offense to corruption – and therefore cannot document it in its reports. “Offenders who are convicted of embezzlement do not appear on our annual corruption convicts list and this has created the wrong perception with the public that we do not go after the big-fish. We have however suggested that the Penal Code be revised to include embezzlement among corruption-related offenses so that we can document it,” explained Cyanzayire.

Low engagement of media, civil society and the private sector

Cyanzayire notes that members of the media and the civil society are very critical partners in the fight against corruption but the Office has not yet fully utilized their potential. However, there are still challenges in engaging non-governmental stakeholders in the fight against corruption.

“We also need influential members of the private sector to play a more active role in the fight against corruption. As for the media, we still feel that there should be more investigative journalism to help us reveal corruption scandals. Some journalists keep saying that there is corruption in certain programmes such as Girinka (one-cow-per-family) but they don’t take time to investigate and bring us the evidence, Cyanzayire said.

The Office is strengthening mobilization campaigns to engage members of the private sector and the civil society in fighting corruption. In 2016 it started a special dialogue with members of the private sector and intends to engage the media to promote investigative journalism.

Organizational and Human Capacity

There are also challenges related to organizational and human capacity. To date, the police are required to send samples to Germany for DNA testing. “In certain countries, the police and the anti-graft body like ours have their own forensic laboratories and other IT equipment that is used to gather evidence. Those are some of the things we don’t have yet, but we have to use the little means we have to achieve more,” highlighted Cyanzayire.

To build capacity of staff, the Office is working with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) to start anti-corruption studies. “We want to use the institute to get qualified teachers who can train our staff from here without having to send them for costly studies abroad,” added Cyanzayire.

Backlog of court judgment review cases

Since the Ombudsman received the power to request for review of judgment, many citizens have come to view the Office of the Ombudsman as an appeal court of sorts. For most who get a negative judgment outcome, they present their cases hoping to have the judgment overturned in their favor. “This has caused us to have a backlog of 1948 cases. Unfortunately not all cases fit the requirements to be reviewed by our Office. We are therefore conducting awareness campaigns to educate the public on the cases that should be referred to the Ombudsman,” said Cyanzayire.

In the future, the Office will strengthen cooperation with other government institutions in charge of fighting corruption as well as members of the private sector and the civil society. Cyanzayire notes that working with them is the only way Rwanda can win the fight against corruption.

With a growing youthful population, the Office is keen to engage young people in fighting corruption through education. “We want to inculcate in them values of integrity. When you look at countries that are doing well in fighting corruption such as Scandinavian countries, they didn’t achieve it overnight. They invested in teaching young people about the values of integrity and we need to do the same to achieve our goal in the long term,” explained Cyanzayire .

The Office has already engaged the Ministry of Education and the Ministry has agreed to include values of integrity in the curriculum for primary schools. “Teaching the right values to young people is crucial in fighting against corruption and it is in line with the country’s anti-graft policy” Cyanzayire added.

Another aspect in the fight against corruption is the strengthening of the Office’s systems to gather evidence.s To this effect, the Office will explore ways to use social media to encourage people to report corruption.

In the end the Office aims to ensure that everyone understands that the fight against corruption cannot be left to government institutions only. “It should be every citizen’s business because we are all affected by corruption. Africa is losing billions in corruption and we miss out on building good schools and hospitals in our countries. We should not be happy with taking our children and sick ones to western schools and hospitals when we can build them here at home by ensuring that the limited resources we have are not misappropriated,” said Cyanzayire.

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