Ombudsman seeks special court for corruption cases

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Cyanzayire speaks before MPs in the Lower House. Timothy Kisambira.

A special court or a special desk within Rwandan courts should be established to bring about efficiency in trying corruption suspects and help curb the vice, the Chief Ombudsman has said. Aloysie Cyanzayire made the call yesterday while appearing before MPs in the Lower Chamber of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, who have embarked on analysing her report for the 2015/2016 fiscal year.

Currently, corruption suspects are tried in conventional courts and Cyanzayire said the complexity of graft cases should be handled by committed judges in the area if more convictions are to be secured.

“It is possible that a special court to try corruption cases would bring more sensitivity in handling these cases and it would help in building capacities for the staff involved in pursuing corruption cases as well as foster awareness against corruption,” she told journalists shortly after meeting the MPs yesterday.

Against the backdrop of rare convictions for corruption cases involving a lot of money, the Ombudsman said some of the suspects are acquitted due to lack of evidence or they simply delay the conviction process through repeated appeals.

The result is that the annual list of corruption convicts released by the Office of the Ombudsman is often full of petty cases, such as those involving between Rwf1,000 and Rwf10,000 in the 2015/16 report, leaving many wondering where ‘big money players’ are.

Cyanzayire said her office is in talks with other officials in the judicial sector as part of efforts to set up a special court or a special desk within Rwandan courts to try corruption cases through a speedy process.

“It’s in line with the Government’s anti-corruption policy and it needs to be implemented,” she said of setting up the court, also explaining that both Police and the prosecution have special desks to investigate corruption.

In line with setting up the court, the Ombudsman said that the idea is under consideration by the Rwanda Law Reform Commission, which will have to revise the law governing courts in order to bring about the special desk or the court itself.

Cyanzayire said the desk alone could be established by the Chief Justice without having to change the entire law governing courts.

MP Alfred Kayiranga Rwasa, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, agreed with the Chief Ombudsman that the idea of a special court to try corruption cases should be considered.

“It’s a good idea that needs to be seriously assessed,” he said, explaining that legal reforms shall be initiated as soon as the idea is found plausible enough.

Another reform which is likely to bring more culprits to the list of corruption convicts in the future is the plan to put embezzlement cases under corruption-related offences in the Penal Code.

Currently, people convicted of embezzling public funds don’t appear on the Ombudsman’s corruption convicts list because the offences are not legally defined as corruption.

In the ongoing review of the Penal Code, the Office of the Ombudsman has suggested that embezzling government funds should be placed under corruption cases, which will give the Ombudsman the power to follow up on the offences and regularly report about them.

Although the so called ‘big fish’ of corruption crimes don’t often appear on the Ombudsman’s annual list of convicts, her reporting on cases of embezzlement includes big-money and high ranking officials like ministers, permanent secretaries in ministries, heads of parastatals, and managers at the district level, among others.

Scrutiny of the Ombudsman’s report for the 2015/16 will continue under the Political Affairs and Gender committee, whose report will be tabled in a plenary session for further recommendations.

The report was tabled to members of both chambers of parliament in November last year, indicating gross embezzlement of government funds and more than a thousand complaints from citizens about suspected cases of injustice across the country.

Eugene Kwibuka

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