Ombudsman seeks prosecutorial powers

If a draft bill governing the organisation of the Office of Ombudsman that is before Parliament is passed, it would give the office powers to investigate and prosecute corruption related cases, as well as conduct searches of premises to unearth evidence of graft.

If a draft bill governing the organisation of the Office of Ombudsman that is before Parliament is passed, it would give the office powers to investigate and prosecute corruption related cases, as well as conduct searches of premises to unearth evidence of graft.

Article 28 of the draft law stipulates that the Chief Ombudsman and his deputies will be granted prosecutorial powers for all offences relating to the functions of the Office.

“In principle, criminal cases are transferred to the National Prosecution Authority. The Office of the Ombudsman may prosecute offences under its competence, but informs the National Prosecution Authority. In case both institutions are handling one case at the same time, the Office of the Ombudsman “leaves it to the National Prosecution Authority,” part of the draft bill reads.

Hon. Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, told The New Times that a lot could be changed  because the bill was still  “being debated” at the lowest levels.

 “This bill comes to add momentum in efforts to fight corruption and injustice. It will give the Ombudsman the power to take things to another level. Rwanda is among the top countries fighting corruption worldwide, and that requires putting up clear measures, some of which are in place, like the Public Accounts Committee”, Kayiranga said.

The Office of the Ombudsman has however admitted to The New Times, when pressed, that capacity gaps, especially lack of prosecutors, currently exist. 

“We have lawyers; it is just a matter of training them. It is clear that prosecutorial powers will mostly belong to the National Public Prosecuting Authority (NPPA) and we will not prosecute corruption much as they do. Thus, the rules we will require will not be similar to theirs (NPPA),” the Acting Ombudsman, Augustin Nzindukiyimana, pointed out, promising that the issue would be resolved once the draft bill is signed into law.

The bill shall also give the Ombudsman’s office powers to advise, demand concerned institutions to address complaints sent to them, request disciplinary sanctions, recover assets, review judgments whenever it deems necessary, execute judgments, orders and writs.

The Acting Ombudsman explained that the current law enacted in 2001 was being modified to foster an environment free of corruption and injustice.

“It really goes hand-in-hand with the general context in which things are changing. The bill also gives the Ombudsman’s office capacity to help local authorities adequately solve people’s complaints”, Nzindukiyimana pointed out.

james.karuhanga@newtimes.co.rw

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