•50 articles ratified •Portfolios renamed •Judicial mandates outlined
Members of the Chamber of Deputies Monday approved a series of amendments in the constitution after a marathon of debates; the ratification saw 50 articles amended. This is the third time the constitution is amended since it came into force on June 4, 2003.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Tharcisse Karugarama, presented the amendments to the House. He said that the idea of amending the constitution dwelled mainly on the mandates of some government officials that were not clearly defined in the constitution.
The minister added that the amendments would make the law flexible and also clear the mistranslation of some articles in the constitution.
“The translation of some articles from one language to another was not clear, while some officials’ mandates were not also clearly defined. That is why the constitution has been amended,” Karugarama explained.
The amendments were overwhelmingly passed by the MPs, and also saw a number of portfolios renamed. They include the Military Chief of General Staff which was changed to Chief of Defence Staff; the Prosecutor General’s office was renamed the National Public Prosecution Authority; while the High Council of the Press will now be referred to as the High Council of the Media.
Judicial courts were also given new names basing on their hierarchy; normally below the High Court there is the Higher Instance Court and the Lower Instance Court.
Higher Instance Court was renamed Intermediate Court, while the Lower Instance Court will be henceforth be called the Primary Court.
Karugarama also said that the amendment paves way for smoothing upcoming elections but there will be no transition period before the next Parliament.
“The MPs’ elections will be conducted during the normal parliamentary recess that is set by the law, which implies that there will be no period of transition,” said Karugarama. The new amendments also stipulate the mandates of judges that were not initially mentioned in the constitution.
The Chief Justice and deputy Chief justice have a mandate of eight years non-renewable, while the Prosecutor General, the president of High Court, the president of the Commercial Courts and their deputies have a mandate of five years that may be renewed once.
Other judges have a mandate of four years that can be renewed as many times as possible. Heated debates arose when MPs started firing Karugarama questions relating to the amendments.
Aaron Makuba requested that the entire constitution be re-written since it has been amended several times. In response, Karugarama told Makuba that the ratified articles were the most urgent, but also advised him to forward a motion through parliament.
“The parliament can also propose the entire amendment of the constitution, but that is if you find it necessary,” Karugarama told the lawmakers.
The constitution was first amended on December 12, 2003 merely six months after it came into force. The second amendments were carried out two years after the first amendments on December 08, 2005.
Many other legislators’ questions centred on the issue of giving mandates to judicial practitioners, and wanted to know why the government had to set mandates for judges yet they are practising a professional career.
In a single phrase response, Karugarama eased their worries saying that an end to a mandate was not an end to a career.
Other issues mentioned in the new amendments include precision and emphasis on the exact naming of the Rwanda Genocide. The new term will be ‘Genocide against Tutsis’.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs has began finalising the changes in the amendments and a final copy will be forwarded to the President’s Office for promulgation.