The Office of the Ombudsman is the supreme anti-corruption agency in our country. Yet, since its establishment six years ago, it has almost only helped promote public awareness about corruption and its grave consequences.
Whether these sensitization campaigns have already paid off with less corruption tendencies than the days prior to the office’s creation remains to be seen.
A few Rwandans will claim not knowing what ‘Umuvunyi’ (Ombudsman) does, or the connection between his office and the war against corruption.
True, the Office of the Ombudsman has conducted a lot of public sensitization campaigns against the vice. And no one can blame Chief Ombudsman Tito Rutaremara and his team.
They were right on their priorities since they needed to position themselves strategically in a society which they dreaded to be seen as mere policemen. They needed to first build allies with all willing citizens as they readied to confront one of the most rooted human crimes.
I assume it has not been a smooth ride for the occupants of that office. It’s not easy to have all public leaders in decision-making positions and all those who manage public funds to start declaring their wealth annually, and upon taking up and leaving a public office.
It becomes even more complicated in a society like ours where people cherish their private lives, and are keen on keeping their possessions away from the limelight. Leaders who have amassed ill-gotten wealth will never want to be asked to account for their assets. And so there is a tendency of under-declaring to avoid causing suspicion.
But where as it was appropriate for the Office of the Ombudsman to kick off its activities by mainly embarking on preventive measures, there’s need for it to urgently swing into real action now.
The office recently asked National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to launch a criminal inquiry into cases involving public officials who failed to declare wealth, and others suspected of making unfaithful wealth declarations.
We can only hope that if those under probe are found to have breached the law and consequently convicted in courts, the Ombudsman’s office will go ahead and make their identities public as stipulated in the law establishing the office.
Publishing the names of leaders who are dishonest about their possessions, or who fail to make their assets known and to justify how they obtained them, on the ‘list of shame’ can take us a step or two ahead in the fight against embezzlement in public offices.
Some people have even suggested that officials who have been found guilty of siphoning taxpayers’ money should be instructed to return the stolen funds or see their assets which they acquired using stolen public funds seized by the State.
I personally would support that if only we had a legal provision to warrant such a judicial decision. However, as a friend recently suggested that could result in corrupt officials resorting to expatriating all the stolen public funds overseas, which is of course far worse than having them investing it locally.
Nonetheless, taxpayers would be more grateful and probably more cooperative in the anti-corruption war if their misappropriated funds were recovered, criminal proceedings notwithstanding.
Back to the Ombudsman’s office’s role: The current law governing the operations of this office does not give it enough powers to tackle corruption all the way.
The Ombudsman has no prosecution powers, and that impedes on the powers he has as the country’s chief corruption watchdog.
The office should be accorded with powers to enforce criminal, administrative and perjury actions against offenders.
It has been argued previously that the Office of the Ombudsman was not established to replace judicial organs, but in fighting anti-development practices such as corruption, but every single effort should be not be disregarded. This would instead see all law-enforcement organs complementing each other.
Corruption is a syndrome that needs to be fought from all angles, and the Ombudsman’s office should be empowered to take the lead.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org