Gov't mulls harsh penalties for misuse of public funds

The Government should set up stiff measures for public officials implicated in swindling taxpayers’ money, the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has said.
Minister Busingye responds to queries from the Public Accounts Committee yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)
Minister Busingye responds to queries from the Public Accounts Committee yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

The Government should set up stiff measures for public officials implicated in swindling taxpayers’ money, the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has said.

Busingye, who also doubles as the Attorney General, made the remarks while appearing before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to explain ways through which state attorneys would facilitate in closing accountability gaps reported by the Auditor-General (AG).

“There is low rate of public consciousness in recovering public funds,” Busingye said, responding to legislators’ query on the rate by which people faulted for mismanaging public finances refund it.

“People feel no pressure from the government to repay and this makes it difficult for the funds to be recovered. We need tough measures, not only to create awareness, but to also put pressure on people to repay instantly, after court convicts them,” the minister added.

At least 354 people have so far been implicated by the prosecution for mismanaging state finances since January 2014; when office of the Attorney General initiated recovery of public funds from the people implicated by court.

“We followed up on 21 cases that the government had won involving Rwf379 million. During the exercise, we realised that public consciousness on repaying public funds was still low. People tend to be reluctant to pay debts owed to the government. That is why we should put in place tough measures to improve consciousness. It will also improve accountability,” Busingye added.

Why ‘big fish’ evade traps

Legislators put the minister to task to explain why top government officials are not found liable in financial mismanagement as often as chief budget managers and accountants of respective public entities.

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PAC members listen to Minister Busingye yesterday at Parliament. (Timothy Kisambira)

“Why is it so difficult to find a big fish implicated in financial mismanagement, yet the institutions they lead are in most cases reported for misusing public funds?” MP Juvenal Nkusi, PAC chairperson, wondered.

His deputy, Théoneste Karenzi, asked why the Office of the Ombudsman does not name and shame top government officials involved in corruption.

Figures indicate that between 2010 and April 2014, about 530 people were convicted of corruption, and none of them include top government officials.

Busingye explained that the ‘big fish’ don’t appear on the lists because they don’t easily have access to the funds, hence leaving chief budget managers and the permanent secretaries in central government and executive secretaries at the district level to be the main culprits, because they are the people likely to be involved in money matters.

The minister also told this paper that the Penal Code does not also criminalise abuse of office or abuse of power, hence making it difficult for audit committees to incriminate members of the Executive in corruption related matters or financial mismanagement.

“This should not mean that once someone misuses government funds, they won’t be held accountable,” Busingye said, adding that his office was trying to propose that the penal code be revised accordingly so that everyone is held accountable for such financial mismanagement as well as abuse of authority and office.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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