The government is reviewing the existing law regulating churches and mosques after establishing loopholes that have led to the mushrooming of substandard faith-based institutions.
Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), the custodian and registrar of Faith-Based organizations – including churches and mosques, among others – is currently holding countrywide consultations with stakeholders on the proposed amendments in the existing regulation.
Justus Kangwagye, the Head of Department, Political Parties and faith-based organisations at RGB told Sunday Times that the review of these regulations resulted from the previous inspections which established a number of substandard churches which didn’t comply with building regulations and noise pollution laws.
He also noted that there are some bigger churches which have "given birth" to smaller branches illegally, the mushrooming of illegal and inefficient meeting places of worship in residential areas which cause noise pollution and do not meet minimum sanitation requirements, while some clerics have been found “exploiting” church goers, among other issues that will be addressed in the amended law.
“Currently we are still in consultations and the new regulations governing faith-based organisations should be tabled before parliament soon after this exercise,” Kangwagye said.
“When we talk of the loopholes, we are looking at cases where some of these people are not adhering to minimum standards. Rwanda respects freedom of association and worship but when some churches start recreating smaller churches that don’t meet requirements and smaller rooms that can’t accommodate big numbers then problems arise,” he added.
According to Kangwagye, some church leaders have been found exploiting churchgoers, “where you find these people sacrificing all their belongings for the sake of their churches. We need to check all these.
“We have had four months of consultations, we started with church leaders who have had their input and we will continue in that order. The new regulations will address a wider spectrum of issues in faith-based organisations not specific issues.”
Although some people have claimed that the closure of churches is an infringement to freedom of worship, Rwanda Governance Board reiterates that the move will specifically check on how places of worship meet basic requirements in terms of safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality which those affected were found to be lacking.
“Of course we have since seen some skeptics on social media with some people claiming that we are not respecting freedoms but Rwanda is one country that respects freedom of worship; however, we want our people to worship in a decent environment too.”
“Imagine 200 people meeting in a place that doesn’t have enough toilets and not connected to water supply? This may result to health risks. We had to jump in to avoid possible problems.” Kangwagye added.
Kangwagye added that the exercise was not intended to permanently close down those churches but rather ask them to fulfill standards for places of worship, which among others include respecting the laws on noise pollution and hygiene standards.
“Of course it’s painful that some of these people are missing their Sunday worship but also good that local governments are finding solutions to this issue. Once a church has met minimum standards it will be reopened,” he added.
Kangwagye said a task force had been established to inspect the reinstatement of the churches that meet standards and that some had since been reopened but couldn’t give the exact number.