Officials urged to declare gifts

The Office of the Ombudsman has decried lack of transparency in declaration gifts received by public officials, which goes against the presidential order and the leadership code of conduct.

The Office of the Ombudsman has decried lack of transparency in declaration gifts received by public officials, which goes against the presidential order and the leadership code of conduct.

A presidential order dated September 2010 requires senior officials to declare and hand over all gifts and donations they receive while on duty to their institutions.

The same order requires the officials or their representatives to inform, in writing, the Office of Ombudsman that they declared donations whose value is Rwf 100,000 and above.

“This procedure is not being observed; officials declare the donations to their institutions, but do not inform us in writing. They are missing a point of transparency,” said Jean Aimé Kajangana, Director of Monitoring of Incompatibility and Interdiction of Senior Officers unit.

He said that whenever his office carries out inspections, undeclared gifts are found in offices. 

“Only a mobile phone and three laptops were reported last year,” he said.  

Officials react

The Governor for Eastern Province, Odette Uwamariya, admitted that many officials were still unaware of the obligation to declare gifts. 

“We receive gifts such as handcrafts like statutes and traditional baskets (uduseke) and we hang them in our offices,” she said, adding that she knew little  about the reporting to the Ombudsman.

“It is a good idea and I want now to find out which gifts are worth reporting.”

What is a gift?

The Presidential order defines a gift and donation as movable or immovable property or other property that is valued in monetary term that is freely given or received by a leader.

It can also be any service that is usually payable that a leader may enjoy freely or rendered on a lower price than the one provided or a hospitality received or given to a leader.

Except the Head of State, an official is not allowed to receive or give a gift or a donation with a value of above Rwf 100,000.

Such a donation would be acceptable only in exceptional circumstances such as in safeguarding a good image of the country, adhering and respecting foreign culture and reciprocating the offer.

“We always receive gifts when we attend official ceremonies out there, but it is not something our society should always encourage; it does not mean that your guest of honour is not satisfied when you do not give a gift,” Uwamariya said.

Gifts the officials get during social events like weddings and others are not in this category.

The law stipulates that, when a gift can be of individual use and it is valued at less than Rwf 100,000, the institution cedes it to the person who received it.

“For example, an institution may not be interested in a cheap tie or jewelry,” Kajangana said.

According to various views, the interpretation of this presidential order calls for some clarifications.

Thierry Karemera, a Member of Parliament, suggested that it should be clear which gifts the officials have to declare to the Ombudsman because;:“One can go for a mission and receive a gift, specific for him or her, not for the institution. In that case, the official would declare it into personal asset, not as institutional property,” he said.

However, the order is clear on this, because, the gifts consist of something an official receives during his official mission, but not in what they may receive from friends.

“Reporting the gifts is  fine, but it should not be limited to the only people in leadership positions,” said Alphonse Muliisa, the Director General of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda. 

“Otherwise we have our institutions at heart and whatever we get, we hand over,” he said.

Muliisa said the museums receive many gifts and donations. He recently received solar panels worth Rwf 80m for Karongi environmental museum.

Kajanga explained that the presidential order does not concern such donations that aim at supporting institutions.

The Office of the Ombudsman is not exempted by this order. Whenever they receive gifts, they report to the Senate.

Article four of the amended leadership code of conduct prohibits an official from diverting property or donations meant for the institution, body or department under his or her authority.