We have been treated this week to something spectacular in the Rwandan government circles. High ranking government officials have been muttering over a recent ombudsman report that ranked most and least corrupt institutions in the country.
Some have come up openly to dismiss it as lacking in substance and hence meriting no attention. And the battle field has been the media.
These rankings put our friends in the traffic police as the group hard hit by the cancer followed by the mighty custodians of our laws.
But the men and women in robes were the most enraged. Almost all the big shots within the judiciary paraded their guns and being lawyers, they unleashed verbal artillery, using all sorts of adjectives to describe and dismiss the contents of this controversial report.
The good side about these exchanges is that it gave us (members of the media) a field day albeit Mzee Tito Rutaremara failing to match the steam.
He simply chose to maintain silence, partly killing our headlines.
The fire from our law Lords seemed to be well coordinated. In dismissing the report, the President of the High court described corruption levels within the judiciary as “very close to zero.”
And to drive their point home, two judges came to their aid, cooperating with police to apprehend suspects that tried to bribe them as reported in The New Times issue of Tuesday July 14th and Thursday July 16th.
Much as these two cases constituted a good argument for the judiciary to dismiss the contents of Mzee Rutaremara’s report, they equally drew pertinent questions.
First, the frequency of these confessions (two within 24hrs) signalled that not all was rosy as the custodians of our laws might want us to believe.
If within 24 hours two “good apples” openly confess attempts of bribery, surely doesn’t one conclude that many more choose to stomach their catch and maintain silence?
Do we ever imagine what happens on a daily basis in the deep valleys of Rusizi or the plains of Nyagatare or the hilly terrains of Nshili, where anti-corruption monitoring measures are not as tight as they could be in Kigali?
Secondly, the timing in exposing these bribes to some judges also raised antennas. It happened immediately after the damning report became public, a fact that could be interpreted as serving a spinning strategy.
In simple terms, some public relations ploy that the judiciary deployed to water-down the ombudsman’s report.
Deputy Chief Justice Sam Rugege had the most interesting comments.
He questioned why the Ombudsman did not share his findings with the judiciary prior to tabling his report in parliament.
He said; “the Ombudsman, himself is a member of the Superior Council of the Judiciary. It would not have done any harm if he had shared with us his findings,” Rugege was quoted in papers as saying.
Now who says the ombudsman is answerable to the judiciary? As far as the law governing his office (ombudsman) is concerned, his report is presented and debated on the floor of parliament rather than the chambers of our Supreme Court.
Chief government Prosecutor Martin Ngoga took a different twist. He said the report painted an ugly image for the judiciary, an accusation that could be used to undermine his effort of arguing for extradition of genocide fugitives.
Much as I fully understand Ngoga’s concerns, I equally ask; must we sweep the dirt under our carpets and pretend all is snow-white just for the sake these fugitives? Certainly not.
The report did not entirely baptise the judiciary as corrupt. It simply said that despite the will to eliminate this parasite from leeching our institutions, the vice continues to penetrate each day.
Corruption is not only about giving a bribe. It takes different forms including any ill behaviour that compromises ethical standards of a particular profession.
And am sure Rutaremara’s findings took scope of all these issues.
This leads me to an equally important issue. If the Ombudsman is not given prosecuting powers and only left at the mercy of others to hold the corrupt accountable, then his work will be as good as that of an unloaded gun.
Certainly, with this backlash from the judiciary, one would highly doubt whether his 2008 findings will ever be given he due attention they deserve once he hands over some files for prosecution.
Though the Ombudsman’s mondus operandi is indeed questionable especially after confessing that he relied on pubic perceptions to come up with his findings, his report should not entirely be thrown to the gutters.
Certainly, his conclusions never came out of a mere vacuum and neither were they farfetched.