Second session gets underway as 20 senators prepare to wrap up their term

Today, Senators kick off the second ordinary session of 2011 knowing that the curtain is finally coming down on the mandate of 20 out of the 26 honourable members within just four months.The Constitution limits a senator’s term to eight non-renewable years, meaning that all those members who assumed office in 2003, or anyone who replaced a member of that lot, are on the verge of making way for new blood.
A cross section of senators during a past plenary session. (File photo)
A cross section of senators during a past plenary session. (File photo)

Today, Senators kick off the second ordinary session of 2011 knowing that the curtain is finally coming down on the mandate of 20 out of the 26 honourable members within just four months.

The Constitution limits a senator’s term to eight non-renewable years, meaning that all those members who assumed office in 2003, or anyone who replaced a member of that lot, are on the verge of making way for new blood.

While some of them are still relatively young and physically strong enough to take up other public duties, a couple of them are certainly destined for retirement, at least from active politics, thanks to their advanced age.

Five of them have already passed the official retirement age of 65 years, with Francois Nshunguyinka and Jean Rugagi Nizurugero, both aged 75, the oldest members of the Upper Chamber of Parliament. Others are Chrysologue Kubwimana, 71, Antoine Mugesera, 69, and Augustine Iyamuremye, 65. Four others, Jean Baptiste Bizimana, Prof. Rwigamba Balinda, Immaculate Gahima Kayumba and Jose Kagabo are all aged between 62 and 65. The average age in the Senate is 57 years.

A dozen of those who will be packing their bags come October earned their tickets to the country’s first Senate after winning polls through electoral colleges instituted according to the then national administrative entities (11 provinces and Kigali City). Four are presidential appointees; two were elected by the members of the Consultative Forum of Political Parties, with the remaining two representing the academia – public and private higher learning institutions apiece.

Nonetheless, six senators have up to October next year to complete their mandate having joined the August House in 2004 – a year after the original members assumed office – to ensure continuity once a new team takes over, a principle provided for in the Constitution. The six include four presidential appointees and another pair of legislators designated by the Consultative Forum of Political Parties. Nonetheless, this category is one member less following last month’s reappointment to Cabinet of Aloysia Inyumba (Minister of Gender and Family Promotion in the Prime Minister’s Office, a portfolio she had held prior to her senatorial job). Exactly a month since Inyumba’s return to the Cabinet, the vacuum created by her exit from the Senate is yet to be filled. And, according to the Constitution, no senator can be replaced with only a year left on their term, meaning that Inyumba, who was among the second quartet of senators picked by the President, can only be replaced – by another presidential appointee – not l
ater than October, this year. The other five senators with a year left on their mandate are; Seth Esri Kamanzi, 63, Joseph Karemera, 52, Agnes Mukabaranga, 49, Henriette Umulisa, 45, and Juvenal Sebishwi, 45.

Electoral calendar
And with the countdown already on, the Cabinet, last Wednesday, approved an electoral calendar for the next Senate, officially paving way for the country’s second electoral exercise in a year. According to Charles Munyaneza, the Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), prospective senatorial aspirants will submit their candidature to the electoral body between 1st and 15th August, with campaigns set to run from 6th to 25th September. Elections for the 12 senators who represent different regions/provinces will be held on September 26, while tertiary institutions will pick their representatives the following day.  Final election results (for the 12 senators representing different regions) will be announced on October 4.

However, with the provinces having been trimmed to five, including Kigali City, down from 12, during the 2006 re-demarcation of administrative borders and frontiers, new constituencies and their quotas in the Senate will have to be determined by a presidential decree, according to the electoral commission. However, Munyaneza declined to divulge how the current five regions are likely to share the 12 slots among themselves, insisting that this newspaper waits for the presidential decree that “will spell out those details”.  The electoral college will constitute members of District and Sector advisory councils.

Regional quotas
However, a source inside NEC intimated to this reporter that while some regions will pick one senator, others will elect two. Asked what criteria will be used to determine regional quotas, the source said: “Most likely, regions with superior numbers of registered voters will pick more than one senator.”

Should this factor provide the basis for the distribution of the 12 seats, three provinces are likely to pick two senators each, while two regions will have to settle for one apiece. Figures from last year’s presidential elections put the Southern Province in the lead with 1,265,365 registered voters, followed by Western (1,216,367) and Eastern (1,181,011).

The Northern Province and the City of Kigali lag with 882,600 and 611,432 voters, respectively.

However, according to the Constitution, anyone who has been elected or appointed to the Senate shall represent and promote the interests of all Rwandans during their term in office, and not only for those of their respective electorate or appointing authority.

In the meantime, the President and the Consultative Forum for Political Parties will name their choices (four for the former and two for the latter) to bring the number of new faces in the Second Senate, due in October, to 20. Under the Constitution, the President appoints a total of eight senators, while the Parties Forum designates four.

A year later, they will both go on to replace the eight senators, whose mandate runs out in October, 2012.

Facts about the First Senate
• There are 26 members, although one seat is currently vacant following last month’s reappointment of Aloysia Inyumba to Cabinet
• 12 members were voted by regional electoral colleges
• Four were designated by the Consultative Forum of Political Parties
• Two were elected by tertiary institutions
• Women constitute 32 percent
• Average age is 57
• Five members are aged between 65 and 75 years
• 18 of the original 20 members are still senators
• In May, 2008, Dr Odette Nyiramirimo, a Parties Forum appointee, was elected to represent Rwanda in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA),

• In October 2008, Elie Mpayimana, 44, a former journalist who had joined the Senate in 2004 as an appointee of the Parties Forum, passed away; he was replaced by Juvenal Sebishwi.

• In mid, 2009, Senator Beatrice Mukabaranga resigned from the Senate after losing her immunity on the request of the Prosecutor General’s office for allegedly having issued a bounced cheque.

• In May 2009, presidential appointee Stanley Safari went missing for weeks before it became public knowledge that he had fled the country in the wake of Genocide charges preferred against him.

How senate operates

• The Senate is in charge of passing legislation, scrutinising and overseeing executive actions, approving the appointment of senior state officials, and supervising the application of the principles referred to in Articles 9 and 54 of the Constitution.

• It has the following structures: Plenary Session (supreme body), Bureau (composed of president and two vice presidents), Standing Committees and the Conference of Chairpersons.

• The Senate was instituted in October 2003 with 20 members

• A great amount of the Senate business is conducted in Standing Committees and adopted in Plenary Session.
• Citizens’ petitions or views may be put to members or filed in writing to the President of the Senate. Such petitions/views are considered by the Standing Committee responsible for public petitions.

• Standing Committee sittings start at 9a.m and end at 12:00; public observers are allowed to take part in committee debates.

• Plenary sittings start at 3p.m and end at 6p.m; Plenary session conducts its business in public and those who choose to attend may do so without, however, participating in debates.

Ends

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