Why we need an anti-corruption court

Deogratius Samvura, a farmer, brazenly dished out a bribe of Rwf1, 000; he was arrested and prosecuted. The Rubavu Intermediate Court convicted him of corruption. He was sentenced to one year in prison.
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

Deogratius Samvura, a farmer, brazenly dished out a bribe of Rwf1, 000; he was arrested and prosecuted. The Rubavu Intermediate Court convicted him of corruption. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Fred Gahizi, a Police officer, trained to keep law and order found himself on the wrong side of the law he took oath to protect. But he fell for a bribe.

He was arrested and charged for corruption. A tribunal sitting in Nyakabuye convicted him of corruption and sentenced him to 2 years and six months in prison. He was also fined Rw60, 000, plus an automatic dishonourable discharge.

These are some of the 28 persons definitely convicted for corruption in the first quarter of 2013, according to the list-of-shame released by the Office of the Ombudsman, and published in this newspaper on July 29.

Persons convicted are of diverse professions; farmers, drivers, police officers, civil servants, among other trades. The lowest amount involved in all these corruption cases is Rwf1,000 (less than US$2) with the highest at Rwf400,000 (about Rwf$600) attracting  jail sentences of between six months to 5 years.

The issue of corruption is attracting growing attention by the day and this country has not wavered in the fight against the vice, even with all the international accolades it has won on this issue.

The Government has come out strongly in its condemnation of corrupt tendencies in the public and private sector.

The establishment of institutions like the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, is seen as a strong resolve to tackle corruption across the board.

It is this resolve from the top that has inspired Rwandans to talk about corruption just like they would about the weather. Students in the anti-corruption clubs and local people in their village anti-corruption committees are all talking about the ‘monster’ that is corruption.

Results have been impressive, the recent Corruption Perception Index ranked Rwanda as the least corrupt country on the continent. The just released 2012 Governance Scorecard by the Rwanda Governance Board rates the fight against corruption, ensuring transparency and accountability up there, at 77.1 per cent.

But as the citizens talk, the challenge is how to walk the talk, especially in prosecuting persons involved in corruption cases. This is what makes the publication of the list of persons convicted of corruption a good practice.

While the number of convicted persons seems small, the significant of publishing names of convicted persons is not lost. The message from the Office of the Ombudsman is that no one is immune to the long arm of the law; from a local farmer and businessman to a local government official and the police officer.

However, a telling observation from the list of shame is the small amount of money involved (ranging between Rwf1, 000 and Rwf400, 000) and the people involved (farmers, drivers). It would be foolhardy to bury our heads in the sand and believe that corruption only exists at the lower levels and only small amounts of money change hands.

If the purpose of the publication of the list of persons definitely convicted of corruption is to serve as a truly deterrent measure, we should be able to see persons involved in high-profile corruption cases published on the same list.

We have had many cases where senior officials have been arrested and later convicted of corruption. And they have gone on to serve their respective sentences.

But they, too, for the same of farness, should be on the same list-of-shame the Office of Ombudsman eventually makes public.

And it is not that all is well at the top. As the Ombudsman Aloysia Cyanzayire has once stated, corruption at the higher levels is much more sophisticated, sometimes involving third parties.

The judicial system needs to be strengthened to ensure a high conviction rate for corruption-related cases involving large amounts of taxpayers’ money.

A well facilitated an anti-corruption court should be considered to ensure speedy trial of corruption-related cases, and it should be empowered to detect all the sophistication that comes with high-profile graft cases.

If this is done, the message would be loud and clear that no matter your station in life, corruption in all its manifestations is a crime that is punished under the laws of the land.

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