Senate has approved a bill that gives authorities powers to seize ill-gotten wealth from corrupt civil servants and illegal businesses.
The bill, endorsed Thursday evening, will become law after assent by the President and promulgation in the Official Gazette.
The draft law had been passed by the Chamber of Deputies in February.
The recovery of offence-related assets, will help boost the country’s anti-corruption fight, observers say.
Rwanda remains the least corrupt country on the continent, according to Transparency International.
But the country’s existing anti-corruption laws were not clear on recovery of offense-related riches. The proposed law will, therefore, enable the seizure, management and confiscation of ill-gotten wealth.
“It will be a big boost for the country’s anti-graft fight,” said Senator Appolinaire Mushinzimana, the chairperson of the senatorial Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Good Governance.
The law will give authorities powers to trace, recover, manage, or confiscate assets and benefits accruing from corruption, terrorism, and illicit drug dealing.
Other offences include trafficking of human organs and tissues, unlawful stock market practices and irregular public issue of shares and other financial frauds, as well as kidnap and human trafficking.
Some analysts have argued that recovering public funds embezzled by convicts remains difficult because all they do under the current legal framework is serving their jail terms and then go on to enjoy their riches once they have been released.
Clément Musangabatware, the Deputy Ombudsman in charge of preventing and fighting corruption, told The New Times that the new law will help in the recovery of embezzled funds.
“Cases where graft convicts were compelled to refund stolen monies were rare because of lack of a clear legal framework,” he says.
The law governing the recovery of offence-related assets will also make it possible to recover ill-gotten assets from heirs to the convict.
“When it is proved that an asset is related to an offence provided under this law, such an asset shall be seized or confiscated in accordance with laws relating to the code of criminal procedure,” reads Article 6 of the bill, which also states reasons for seizure and confiscation.
Some citizens are worried that the new law might encroach on their rights if their relatives commited offenses.
“My understanding is that they (heirs) will not be criminally liable but will have a civil case to answer and recovery of the wealth they own may be legitimate,” Athanase Rutabingwa, a Kigali-based lawyer, who is also the president of Kigali Bar Association, said.
Francine Umurungi, the in-charge of institutional development and advocacy at Transparency International-Rwanda, says that the new legislation is one of those laws that will ease their work as a corruption watchdog.
“We always found it difficult to address challenges that were not provided for under the law. This law will make our work easy,” Umurungi said.
Management of seized assets
The draft law stipulates that a unit in charge of managing seized and confiscated assets will be created within the Public Prosecution.
The unit’s organisation and functioning will be determined by a ministerial order.
Article 18 of the bill stipulates that the National Public Prosecution Authority and the Military Prosecution Department “shall establish in each jurisdiction of the Public Prosecution warehouse for seized or confiscated movable assets and its manager”.