The Ministry of Justice will soon publish ministerial instructions that will hold public legal advisors liable in case government loses money on litigations because of bad legal advice.
Speaking during a coordination meeting with legal advisors from different public institutions, last week, Justice minister Johnston Busingye said the instruction will determine the degree of accountability by the government lawyers in the litigations lost by government.
The meeting was held under the theme, ‘Towards a professional and competent legal workforce.’
During the meeting, Busingye said the instructions, which will establish standards and guidelines for public sector legal officers, have been approved by the Cabinet and will be gazetted soon.
“This is a new effort to enforce a code of conduct so that you stop making mistakes that have led government to lose billions of francs in litigations, mistakes that can be easily prevented,” the minister said.
“Whoever commits such knowingly will be held accountable. We want to reduce litigations against government, save public money, improve quality of legal work, and reinforce checks and balances with our role in criticising and advising on procurement, contract management in the institutions.”
Two years ago, the ministry embarked on a campaign to streamline systems to minimise losses that emanate from contracts that are not scrutinised.
Busingye noted that although the efforts they embarked on two years ago are paying off and that at least 70 per cent of the litigations are now won, they needed to close all loopholes to ensure they don’t go to court at all or even when they do, they have water-tight cases.
In 2013, it was announced that government had in the previous two years lost more than Rwf3 billion in litigations, mainly due to badly handled contracts the state entered with different contractors.
Busingye cited some mistakes that are still prevalent, including the fact that some institutions continue to use an old template of contracts that is poorly drafted, while others continue to give a blank cheque to suppliers to draft the contracts.
“Do not make informal consultations. Do not let procurement officers drive the process without your part. Fight for integrity, objectivity, quality services, avoid negligence, do research and consult laws and other materials before providing legal opinions, otherwise you will be held accountable,” he said.
Need of capacity building
The Ministry of Justice has made efforts to provide training on specific areas, including privatisation, contract law and mining management while it will soon facilitate training on professional ethics and conduct of government legal advisors.
Josephine Iragena, the legal advisor at the central bank, said such dialogues were crucial as it gives them an opportunity to network, share experience, which makes consultations during contract drafting easier, especially where input from other agencies is required.
Recovering public money
Anselme Niyonnzima , a legal advisor in Nyarugenge District, requested the ministry to conduct an assessment to show figures on government progress on addressing losses from bad litigations.
Responding to this suggestion, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Isabelle Karihangabo, admitted that although government losses in litigations have reduced, there is still need of an assessment to look at what government lost.
She said there is still a challenge in recovering money where government won cases because some people are unable to pay.
“We also need your involvement in the recovery of money awarded in litigation. You should work closely with professional bailiffs to execute the judgments,” Karihangabo said.
The PS said, last year, government was supposed to recover Rwf200 million it had won but only Rwf50 million was recovered.