KIGALI - The new Minister of Public Service and Labour, Anastase Murekezi, has disassociated himself from recent media reports attributed to him on the issue of work permits. Last week, this newspaper quoted him as saying that the country would waive work permits on foreigners working in Rwanda based on the findings of a soon-to-end national skills audit which was launched last October.
In a story published on March 21, Murekezi, had reportedly said that the plan to lift work permits would be on hold until the skills audit exercise showed specific areas that were in dire need for foreign expertise.
Murekezi, replaced Manasseh Nshuti, who is now the Presidential Advisor on Economic Affairs during the March 7 Cabinet reshuffle.
In a letter he personally dropped at The New Times Publications offices, Kimihurura on Saturday, Murekezi said he does not defer from Nshuti’s declared position on the matter.
“I informed him (the reporter) that I add nothing to what the former Minister I replaced, Prof. Nshuti Manasseh, openly explained to journalists rectifying his (earlier) comments during a press conference. Indeed I did not say anything about the above article’s title,” he said in reference to the Friday’s story titled “Scrapping of work permits to depend on skills audit, says new Labour Minister.”
Shortly before he was relinquished of his ministerial duties, Nshuti published a paid-for letter in newspapers and on the State Television, retracting his earlier comments during a press conference in which he had said that only foreigners with a minimum of Master’s degree would not be required to pay for work permits.
However, in the corrective press communication, Nshuti said the scrapping of work permits would not be discriminatory regardless of one’s level of education.
“The Rwandan Government policy on work permits is to facilitate foreigners to acquire work permits in order to use their skills in Rwanda. It is acknowledged that Rwanda unquestionably needs workers with different training skills from anywhere in the world,” Murekezi said in his letter to this publication.
The decision to remove work permits was reached during a Cabinet meeting on January 18.
Murekezi confirmed that the skills audit was going on, but avoided linking it to the policy to scrap work permits. “The skills audit study to be concluded soon will immediately be followed by the preparation of the ‘Skills Development Plan’ that will assist Rwandans to improve and gain variable skills that the country needs in public sector and civil society,” he said in the one-page letter.
The former Agriculture Minister added: “It is essential to add that Rwandan professionals, including consultants, will continuously develop their skills for the labour market. This will not prevent foreigners from coming and working in Rwanda. Rather, Rwandans will gradually gain competitive skills on the labour market in Rwanda and in foreign countries especially in the region.”
The country’s plan to scrap work permits was first announced by President Paul Kagame at a Commonwealth Business Forum in Ugandan Capital, Kampala, last November, during a key note address under the theme “Critical Steps Towards a Competitive East Africa”. In that speech, the Head of State appealed to EAC member states to create conducive working conditions for East Africans and foreigners.
The planned waiving of work permits for foreigners is poised to spark mixed feelings among Rwandans, who will be wary of likely tighter competition in the labour market.