Be careful what you wish for

“Ombudsman to get more powers” was a headline in yesterdays New Times and if the journalist reported the news accurately, then I must say that I oppose the move. Not because I believe that the Office of the Ombudsman is somehow tainted or anything of the sort, but rather because I feel that it will interfere with the workings of government.

“Ombudsman to get more powers” was a headline in yesterdays New Times and if the journalist reported the news accurately, then I must say that I oppose the move. Not because I believe that the Office of the Ombudsman is somehow tainted or anything of the sort, but rather because I feel that it will interfere with the workings of government.

According to the report, and I quote, “The Office of the Ombudsman may finally be granted powers to investigate and prosecute corruption and injustice cases if parliament approves the amendment of a law governing the office.The Ombudsman, Tito Rutaremara, has for over three years, requested lawmakers to grant him more powers, claiming some people have escaped justice yet his office could prove them guilty. Speaking to The New Times, Rutaremara said that cabinet has since approved the amendments of the legislation and involved elements that grant him more powers to deal with corruption and injustice cases”.

I believe that the Office of the Ombudsman has a role to play in making Rwanda more just; however, when Mzee Rutaremera asks that he be given the powers to ‘investigate’ and ‘prosecute’ then I must say that he’s asking for too much power.

Our Constitution provides for a separation of power; where the Executive branch of Government implements laws, the Legislature promulgates laws and the Judiciary makes sure that the laws are followed in the proper manner (this is, I must say, a very basic interpretation of a complex situation). The Office of the Ombudsman reports to the Office of the President, therefore it is part of the Executive. I’m feeling uncomfortable about all this.

I must ask, why is the Ombudsman asking for more powers? Investigating cases of corruption and injustice are within the jurisdiction of the police and if one is to make a headcount of the people in jail because they took a bribe or acted to enrich themselves illegally, then one has to come to the conclusion that the National Police is indeed doing its job. And if the Office of the Ombudsman has suggestions that it feels can make the National Police even better, it should do so. Not try to duplicate the same tasks. If there is a problem in investigating some cases then I believe that the Police should be even more empowered.

Secondly, asking to try cases of corruption and injustice is dangerous. The courts of Rwanda have shown the ability to try these cases using our laws and therefore giving the Ombudsman’s the power to judge cases is tantamount to saying that the justices of the land haven’t done a good enough job. OR, they’ve followed the letter of the law and thrown out flimsy cases. The nature of the law is that sometimes guilty people are let loose on technicalities.

However, one mustn’t blame the judges. If you are to blame anyone, blame the Prosecutors and the Police who didn’t compile a proper dossier.

Asking to be ‘police, prosecutor and judge’ is unnecessary. How can someone believe that they’ve been treated fairly if the very people who are investigating him are the same who are judging him? How will it possibly work? I’m pretty sure that each and every ‘guilty’ verdict will lead to an immediate appeal to the ‘traditional’ courts, which will probably then overturn the Ombudsman’s verdict on either a technicality or a facet of law. So, all in all, what will happen is that things will end up the very same way they were in the first place.

I’m of the opinion that empowering the judicial arm of government by hiring more prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges and training them and rewarding them better is the proper initiative.

Same to the police. The Office of the Ombudsman is doing a great job already. I was there a few weeks back and the buzz of activity was heartening. Keep up the sprit, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

sunnyntayombya@newtimes.co.rw

 

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