Govt acquires 290 abandoned properties

Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that at least 290 units of abandoned property, including land, houses, money and bank accounts are unclaimed and have been repossessed by the State.
PAC members are expected to conclude amending the law on abandoned property. The New Times/ File.
PAC members are expected to conclude amending the law on abandoned property. The New Times/ File.

Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that at least 290 units of abandoned property, including land, houses, money and bank accounts are unclaimed and have been repossessed by the State.

It is, however, a continuous process to identify more of such property that might still be lying idle, or that have been taken over ‘fraudulently’ by people or by unrecognised heirs or beneficiaries.

The situation could lead to conflict in case the rightful owners or heirs finally show up and find their property taken; which compels government to take charge of such property and protect it from encroachment.

Much of this property belongs to families that perished in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as well as to individuals who live in exile for various reasons.

In September 2009, a Cabinet meeting recommended that a department be established under the Ministry of Justice to cater for abandoned property and subsequently, it awakened an absolete law relating to the management of abandoned property that had been passed in 2004.

By the end of this week, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is expected to have concluded amending articles in the law in order to make it more relevant and effective.

“We have credible statistics showing that 290 units of abandoned property exist in Kigali, Gakenke District, and beyond and these have been repossessed by government. We know, however, that there is more than just that and we continue to do research in order to protect these properties,” Mary Saba, the head of the unit charged with management of abandoned property at the Ministry of Justice, said in an interview yesterday.

Saba added that much of these properties are enjoyed by people who have no connection whatsoever to the rightful owners and, therefore, may not be held accountable for the losses they cause when the rightful owners finally return.

“What we ask of Rwandans is to provide information wherever they find abandoned property instead of claiming ownership illegally,” Saba said.

Handling claims

PAC Chairperson Juvenal Nkusi said although most unclaimed property belongs to Genocide victims, many other cases involve property such as land and farms that have been inhabited illegally for more than 30 years.

“In such cases where a person has been using property which is not theirs for a very long period, they will be given the opportunity to retain and use it in an acceptable manner but be ready to hand it over once the rightful owners claim it,” Nkusi said.

“Property like land and a house is a very crucial matter and we know that sooner or later the owners or heirs will demand for what is legally theirs and government has a duty to make sure they get it back.”

By law, each sector is required to coordinate inventories of abandoned property at the cell and village levels, as well as determine the former owners, reason for their abandonment and how the property is currently utilised.

Individuals who conceal information of abandoned property or forge documents to prove ownership are expelled from the property and required to reimburse the produce they accrued from using it.

If the owner of the property declares themselves with proof, the government is expected by law to automatically hand it back to them within 60 days.

In case of abandoned bank accounts, rightful owners are required to inform the Ministry of Justice of the amount they hold on such accounts, which is transferred to them after being certified by court.

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