Former Gacaca courts judges’ co-ops struggling under weight of embezzlement

When they retired from their duties as Gacaca courts judges (facilitators) five years ago, they looked to a bright future; they harboured dreams of self-improvement and of community. Having set up co-operatives to undertake income-generating projects set up using the packages they received when they were discharged, they knew nothing would come between them and those dreams.
Some of the Gacaca judges (with shoulder bands) during one of the sessions of a Gacaca court. The former court adjudicators are crying foul after some of the leaders of the co-operatives they formed when they retired mismanaged their finances. (File)
Some of the Gacaca judges (with shoulder bands) during one of the sessions of a Gacaca court. The former court adjudicators are crying foul after some of the leaders of the co-operatives they formed when they retired mismanaged their finances. (File)

When they retired from their duties as Gacaca courts judges (facilitators) five years ago, they looked to a bright future; they harboured dreams of self-improvement and of community. Having set up co-operatives to undertake income-generating projects set up using the packages they received when they were discharged, they knew nothing would come between them and those dreams.

They never envisaged that would be devoured by their own, they never thought their pregnant plans would suffer miscarriage. Yet they did. Just a few years down the road, the former Gacaca courts judges, have decried the mismanagement of funds injected into the groups by the government five years ago to support their income-generating ventures.

The members say government gave the new co-operatives over Rwf1 billion to kick-start their income-generating activities to improve household income of members. The members also contributed more funds to strengthen the co-operatives. According to available information, many of the co-operatives had planned to start commercial farming activities, including goat rearing projects.

However, a survey by Business Times in four districts of Nyabihu, Musanze, Gisagara and Gatsibo discovered gross mismanagement, while most of the Inyangamugayo co-operatives failed to implement the planned projects, and are struggling to stay afloat.

There are 416 co-operatives of former Gacaca courts judges countrywide, with each sector having at least one. 

Nyabihu

In Nyabihu District, it is a story of despair and disgruntlement.

Patrice Mugemanyi, a former Gacaca judge from Rugera sector, said their co-operative was mismanaged.

“Each of us received Rwf10,000 which he pooled to buy goats, but also continued to contribute Rwf1,000 to the co-operative every month to increase our savings. There were 54 groups of nine members in each sector, meaning we saved Rwf54,000 monthly in contributions,” he explained.

Mugemanyi said their leaders mismanaged the funds and never gave accountability for the money, which forced members to reported the matter to now ex-governor of Western Province.

“The ex-governor arranged a meeting with the co-operative leaders in 2012, who agreed to pay us some money for health insurance. However, they are yet to pay the balance,” Mugemanyi said.

He said that the sector executive secretary also conducted an investigation that discovered gross mismanagement and embezzlement by leaders.

“They were again ordered to pay the money, but we are still waiting to date. We have not even been told the amount of money we had accumulated,” Mugemanyi said.

He called on central government leaders to intervene and pursue “these people so we can recover the money and our benefits”.

In Mukamira sector, the members accused the co-operative leaders of lending out members’ money illegally to themselves and their friends. They said those who are supposed to help recover the funds have turned a blind eye to the issue.

Angele Mukaminani, the vice-mayor in charge of economics and finance, confirmed having received complaints from the former Gacaca judges in Karago sector, saying she advised them to take the matter to Abunzi for mediation or courts of law.

“It is a complicated case, but the cooperative leaders must show how they used the money. We are going to follow up the issue and investigate other sectors,” she said.

She wondered why people who were dispensing justice in Gacaca courts could be the ones mismanaging their colleagues’ contributions in co-operatives.

Musanze

Jean Sebasore, a former Gacaca court judge in Kinigi sector, Musanze District voiced similar sentiments as his counterpart in Nyabihu.

He said the co-operative they formed loaned out their contributions, but borrowers defaulted. The group leader resigned as result. He added that they were never briefed about the status of the co-operative, noting that before they would get money to pay health insurance from the co-operative.

Speaking to Business Times, Jean Claude Musabyimana, the Musanze District vice-mayor in charge of economics and finance, could not confirm the matter but said they would go to the sector and investigate the issue.

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A Ruhango women's articraft group during one of their weekly meetings. Gacaca judge’s efforts to create viable co-operatives have been hampered by mismanagement. (File)

Gisagara

In Gisagara District, the co-operative that was formed by the Gacaca jugdes failed to implement the planned goat rearing project and preferred to share money, according to the Mukindo sector executive secretary, Moise Ndungutse. The group members’ contributions were embezzled, he added.

Innocent Mazimpaka, a former Gacaca court judge, said the group had collected start-up capital amounting to Rwf280,000 (from 280 members).

Gatsibo

In Gatsibo District, Remera sector, the executive secretary Jean Claude Ndayisenga, said they have moved to tackle the problem after discovering the mismanagement in the co-ops.

“We are still handling the issue…We called co-operative members and briefed them about the matter,” Ndayisenga said, before adding that some got loans and never repaid.

He said they are monitoring the group to ensure everyone who owes the co-operative pays back the loan.

“After all outstanding loans are repaid, we will sit with them and discuss the way forward, especially the type of income-generating projects they can start to improve their livelihoods,” he explained.

He said the co-operative had accumulated over Rwf2 million in savings. The group has 288 members.

The mayor of Gatsibo District, Richard Gasana, said he was not aware of the problem as he is new. He, however, called for forensic audits in former judges’ co-operatives to ensure those who have mismanaged or swindled members’ money are punished and repay it.

RCA speaks out

Damien Mugabo, the Rwanda Co-operative Agency (RCA) director general, said they will meet local leaders and members of affected co-operatives before they start investigations into some of the cases already identified.

He said they want to find out why some of the co-operatives are not registered.

“The co-operative leaders could have embezzled money or spent it on unplanned activities; our officials will examine the issue and seek solutions, whatever the case may be,” Mugabo said.

Gilbert Habyarimana, the division manager in charge of co-operatives inspection at RCA, said there is need to conduct a thorough inspection to find out whether affected co-operatives are registered or not before they intervene.

He said whatever the outcome of the inspection, they will work with local leaders to solve the problem. Habyarimana, however, said the issues should first be handled by sector leaders.

Local government ministry

Fred Mufulukye, the director general in charge of territorial administration and governance at the Ministry of Local Governant, told Business Times on Friday that they were not aware of such issues, but added that once they receive complaints, they will liaise with local leaders to investigate the matter.

Mufulukye advised affected co-operatives to always use the many channels in place to report such cases so that they are addressed before they get out of hand by relevant government institutions.

Gacaca courts were formed to handle cases related to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The courts made up of selected community members wound up their work in 2010 after handling over two million cases.

As an appreciation, the court members were given Rwf10,000 each and other small incentives by the government, besides the Rwf1 billion to help them start income-generating projects.

 

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