Last year, Ibrahim Sindikubwabo, a barber, was sentenced to two years in prison by the Huye Court of High Instance and ordered to pay a fine of Rwf 20,000 after being convicted of giving a bribe of a mobile telephone and Rwf 2,000.
He was among 80 people convicted for corruption-related crimes in the third and fourth quarter of 2010, according to a list released, Monday, by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The list has generated debate on various issues, ranging from the length and fairness of the various sentences, to whether the publication of the convicts parents names, was necessary.
Primary among these concerns was that those found guilty of corruption were seemingly handed extremely differing sentences without regard to the amount of money or individuals involved. The discrepancy in the administration of justice regarding these corruption cases is casting doubt on the fairness of the judgments.
For example, Charles Ayirwanda, a Local Defence Force member from Gatumba, was handed a five-year sentence and fined Rwf 5000 for receiving a bribe of Rwf 500 while Sgt. Vedaste Kagiraneza, a policeman who received a bribe of Rwf 140,000 was sentenced to three years in prison and a fined Rwf 100,000.
According to Article 3(9) of the 25/2003 of 15/08/2003 Anti-Corruption Law, the Office of the Ombudsman, has, among its responsibilities, identifying and making public the list of persons definitively convicted of corruption-related offences and their sentences.
In an interview with The New Times, the Deputy Ombudsman, Bernadette Kanzayire, said that the current sentences entirely depend on the judge’s discretion and the anti-corruption law. She, however, admits that the current law needs to be revised to address any ambiguities that might lead to harsh sentences.
On the question of the absence of high-ranking government officials on the list, Kanzayire disputed any sort of cover-up.
“In the past we have had Ministers and Permanent Secretaries on the list, it just so happens that none appear on this list” Kanzayire said.
Defending the sentences, the Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, said the current anti-corruption law provides the sentencing regimen judges use in sentencing those found guilty of corruption.
“People who have committed corruption are sentenced within the provisions of the law,” Karugarama said, denying that some people whose cases involve lesser amounts of money have been given heavier sentences than those who were involved in cases with bigger amounts.
“The sentencing regimen sets the ceiling and the minimum as well. If a person shows remorse or seeks forgiveness, the judge has the discretion to give a lighter sentence while a person who becomes stubborn, arrogant and doesn’t cooperate is given a heavier one,” Karugarama said.
The Minister also said that the actual value of the amounts involved differed from place-to-place, saying that, for example, a Rwf 50,000 bribe in Nyabihu District could theoretically be more valuable than a Rwf 1 million bribe in Kigali.
Karugarama, however, said that the law is under review and there will be new provisions which include alternative sentences and punishments.
Remarking on the absence of senior government officials, Karugarama said that courts can only prosecute those brought forward for trial.
“As far as I know, everyone is investigated. There are no ministers involved because they aren’t directly engaged in financial issues,” he said.
Commenting on the length of the sentences handed down, the Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, said that anomalies in the sentences cited on the list, if found to be supported by empirical facts, could “raise legitimate questions and attract a damaging perception”, Ngoga said.
He notes that as a policy, the Prosecution goes for the highest sentence possible and said that it was up to the courts to render fair sentences.
Apophia Twiine, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the National University of Rwanda, says that the current anti-corruption law, which is under review, should be clear on the sentences handed down in proportion to the nature and intent of the offence.
“ I believe that the law should state clearly that those engaged in corruption in order to get a service they should have been rendered without payment in the first place, should be given lesser punishments and sentences in relation to those found guilty of using bribery to change the outcome of a certain service or decisions,” the university don said.
On her part, the Deputy Commissioner of Rwanda Correctional Services, Mary Gahonzire, admits that the consequence of the current law, which does not provide other remedies, means that people cannot serve alternative sentences.
“The current law is punitive. We are eagerly waiting for a paradigm shift from punitive to correctional sentencing,” Gahonzire said, adding that the government could save a lot if there were alternative ways to punish culprits, and that it would help decongest the prison system.
The Spokesperson of the Supreme Court, Charles Kaliwabo, defended the publishing of parents’ names, along their convicted children’s saying that that is does not infringe on their rights since they are not accomplices.
“Publishing the names of the parents is strictly for the proper description of the convicted offenders. There is no aim whatsoever to scandalize the parent’s name; it is done in order for the public to know who they are”, Kaliwabo said, adding that court is ready to defend itself on the issue
Rwanda was recently ranked among the fourth least corrupt nation in Africa in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index.