As the New Year unfolded, the Fund for the Assistance of Needy Genocide Survivors (FARG) confirmed what many people had suspected for quite a long time – thousands of students who benefited from the fund did not merit the financial support. But not many people ever imagined that some of the FARG-sponsored students were actually not Rwandan, let alone not coming from disadvantaged families.
And so, the findings, during a recent countrywide screening exercise, that as many as 19,514 students were not bona fide beneficiaries, were revealing in so many ways. This figure represents over 30 percent of the total students previously on FARG sponsorship. Meanwhile, it was also found out that nearly the same number of students – 18,742 to be precise – were deserving of sponsorship, but had mysteriously been left out during previous vetting processes.
The acting Executive Secretary of FARG, Theophile Ruberangeyo, admitted that the anomalies were a result of corrupt tendencies within the Fund, and pointed an accusing figure at the grassroots organs involved in identifying the students. It is understood that the clean-up was as a result of government’s instructions to the interim leadership, under Ruberangeyo, after the previous leaders were sacked. Yet, allegations of different forms of irregularities at FARG are virtually as old as the body itself.
Rwandans have watched as successive FARG administrations fail to put taxpayers’ funds to good use, to the extent that many remain doubtful of the goodwill and capacity of the new leadership, even after the recent sponsorship findings. For many years now, at least 5 percent of the country’s annual budget have gone to FARG, and this allocation has increasingly risen with the budget increment. This budgetary allocation has been supplemented by contributions from employees, both public and private.
On aggregate, the Fund now receives tens of billions each year, thanks largely to a remarkable increase in our national budget, which is now above Rwf800 billion. However, there’s little to show on the ground for this money. Sixteen years after the genocide, hundreds of survivors are yet to get a descent home; many widows continue to face life-threatening challenges; and FARG still owes many schools tuition arrears. What went wrong and who should be held responsible? Why didn’t the successive cabinet ministers overseeing FARG activities and other concerned government officials help redress the situation long ago?
These are some of the unanswered questions on taxpayers’ minds, and for which, answers must be found if we are to draw lessons from the past failures and start to do the right thing.
It was recently reported that FARG was considering taking legal action against students who fleeced the Fund. True, students – Rwandan or not – who lied their way onto FARG’s sponsorship list, should be held accountable. Those, particularly, from wealthy families should reimburse the money because they took it at the expense of someone else – a genocide widow or a vulnerable survivor student.
However, the fraudulent beneficiaries constitute just one side of the story. For me, the lead suspects should be the very leaders who were in charge of identifying the beneficiaries. And those who were charged with overseeing the exercise, but did nothing to prevent these irregularities should not go scot free, either. They do not all have to be dragged to courts; some can be reprimanded administratively.
And, the same should go for people implicated in swindling finances or stealing materials that were meant for construction of houses of needy genocide survivors. The bottom line should be to hold people to account for their deeds.
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association