Prisons food supplier shuts down over unpaid debts

THE RWANDA Agribusiness Limited (RABI Ltd), the firm contracted to supply cooked food to correctional facilities, has closed its doors, citing alleged accumulated unpaid bills by the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS).
Harelimana (L) serves packed food to Huye Prison inmates in July last year. The New Times/ File.
Harelimana (L) serves packed food to Huye Prison inmates in July last year. The New Times/ File.

THE RWANDA Agribusiness Limited (RABI Ltd), the firm contracted to supply cooked food to correctional facilities, has closed its doors, citing alleged accumulated unpaid bills by the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS).

According to officials, more than Rwf500m has accumulated in arrears for food supplied to inmates incarcerated at Huye and Nyamagabe prisons between July 2012 and January this year.

RABI Ltd claims it has been struggling to keep operations, forcing management to call for a  temporary suspension of meal supply.

Jean Claude Umwizerwa, RABI’s director of administration, told this paper that the move was inevitable.

“We were running out of money and we were not being paid. Our capacity to continue operating had really been overstretched,” Umwizerwa said. “It has been about seven months that we had been supplying food to the correctional facilities without pay. We have been engaging the client (RCS) and they just give us promises.”

About 85 full and part-time employees have been affected by the decision to close the factory, Umwizerwa said.

Also affected are three local farmers’ cooperatives and many businesspersons, who had been delivering supplies to the Huye-based plant.

Umwizerwa said apart from halting their operations, the payment delays mean they will not be able to timely service a loan and also face penalties for not paying taxes on time.

Since last July, RABI Ltd was hired to feed prisoners and the programme started with Huye and Nyamagabe prisons in its pilot phase, but it was due to expand to correctional facilities countrywide.

Launching the programme last year, officials said the decision to feed inmates on outsourced ready-cooked food was reached as a way of reducing costs incurred in preparing food for the prisoners.

At the occasion, Internal Security minister Sheik Moussa Fazil Harelimana said the programme would help government save an estimated Rwf2b annually and promote the welfare of inmates.

Procedural verification


RCS Commissioner General Paul Rwarakabije said government still recognises the benefits of feeding inmates on outsourced food.

He attributed the delays in clearing the bills to “ongoing verification by the Ministry of Finance,” which is looking into whether the tender award procedure followed the law before the money is released.

Rwarakabije said RABI Ltd was awarded the tender through single source procedure, mainly because it is the sole producer of processed food in the country.

“The process through which we went [to award the tender] is legal, but there have been suspicion over it. The verification modalities delayed, resulting into delays of payment,” Rwarakabije said.

He assured the issue of payment would soon be resolved.

“It is just an issue of time and, once the verification is complete, they will receive their money and we shall resume the supply.”

Concerns

Valens Munyabagisha, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Security, the overseer of RCS, told this paper that his ministry is following up the issue to ensure it is resolved without further delays.

He said revisiting the contract would still help to meet the cuts on the cost involved in feeding inmates, including the expenses met in obtaining firewood, water and other requirements to prepare food for the prisoners.

“All parties are doing their best to ensure that the programme (to feed prisoners on outsourced food) restarts soon,” Munyabagisha said.

Workers wary

Meanwhile, RABI’s employees have said they are concerned over their future following the decision to temporarily halt the factory’s operations. A number of them told The New Times that the news of the closure, which they labelled sudden and abrupt, came with shock and dismay.

Emmanuel Tuyishime, a machine operator, said the lives of families whose survival depended on the factory would be affected.

“Many residents and the workers’ relatives depended in various ways on the factory. Now that it has closed, surviving will be somehow difficult,” Tuyishime said.

“We have been told we cannot receive salaries while the factory is not functioning. Surviving is now a challenge.”

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