Debate on RBA bill hits snag

A parliamentary debate on the draft bill to transform the state-owned ORINFOR from a state broadcaster to a public broadcaster has hit a snag as issues on legal guarantees of its autonomy came to the fore.  The public broadcaster, which will be known as the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA), will be autonomous in order to serve the interests of the general public in the best manner possible. Its responsibilities will include distributing signals, providing impartial and accurate national and global news, providing Rwandans and foreigners with educational programmes and contributing to the promotion of culture.
Willy Rukundo. The New Times / File.
Willy Rukundo. The New Times / File.

A parliamentary debate on the draft bill to transform the state-owned ORINFOR from a state broadcaster to a public broadcaster has hit a snag as issues on legal guarantees of its autonomy came to the fore. 

The public broadcaster, which will be known as the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA), will be autonomous in order to serve the interests of the general public in the best manner possible. Its responsibilities will include distributing signals, providing impartial and accurate national and global news, providing Rwandans and foreigners with educational programmes and contributing to the promotion of culture.

The issue of the RBA’s autonomy came up for discussion, yesterday, in the Lower Chamber’s Political Affairs and Gender Committee, which Wednesday began to scrutinise and streamline the bill.

MPs and stakeholders realised that the bill was flawed as it was drafted in a manner which failed to acknowledge RBA’s status as a special agency.

Speaking to The New Times, Willy Rukundo, the acting head of ORINFOR, noted: “If you draft a law of the RBA based on that [laws of other government parastatal], it will not give the flexibility and the independence that the government wants to give to RBA. That is why now we have hit a snag and are going back to the drawing table”.

“We are also going back to work on re-drafting it. On Monday, we will come out with a draft that is at par with what the constitution stipulates for this special institution.”

The Vice Chairperson of the Committee, Yvonne Uwayisenga, Theoneste Safari Begumisa, and other MPs, agreed that more time was needed to thoroughly consult and come back with a better draft, on Monday.

“We have also seen that what we were going to do was simply bring back something similar to ORINFOR yet in the vision the government has, this is not right. It really would not be in the interest of the public,” Begumisa said.

Key issues

According to Willy Rukundo, an issue that will need to be discussed is the manner in which the potential RBA board of governors is constituted.

Article 10 of the draft law states that the Cabinet shall approve seven members of the board of directors after a recruitment that is done “publically and transparently.”

They will be appointed by a presidential order.

“We wanted the responsibilities of the board to appear in the law so that the independence is totally guarded by the law, not by the prime minister’s order, not by the president’s order, but by the law. The law is always above the order by the prime minister or the president”, Rukundo said.

“But according to the law that governs other government parastatals, the responsibilities of the board for example, are in the prime minister’s order and this would not give the board the independence that the government wants it to have. That is why we are going back to the drawing board. It is the key issue.”

Another issue that will have to be ironed out has to do with the new agency’s staffing. Currently, ORINFOR’s employees are civil servants.

Rukundo understands that if this applies to RBA, “it will erode the independence that we want to give to the staff and the administration of RBA”.

“RBA staff shouldn’t be civil servants so as to reduce political influence. The staff – the cameramen, reporters, and others, should have a contract with the organisation. Not being on the payroll of the government will give them independence. And so, according to this current draft law, that can’t be possible,” he explained.

The RBA’s autonomy is going to be seen especially in the powers and the responsibilities of its board of directors.  Members of the board are going to be recruited in an open manner and are expected to be neutral.

Branches abroad

Meanwhile, RBA will open bureaus abroad to link Rwanda to the outside world more than ever before.

Rukundo on Wednesday said, “these days it is quite important to market yourself to the outside world. And if Rwanda continues perhaps to think within its borders, it is like someone thinking within a box. We need to take Rwanda outside so that other people can know what Rwanda is all about, what people are doing, what the politicians are doing.

“And then even politically, you exert some influence and public opinion about your own country”.

james.karuhanga@newtimes.co.rw

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