January 20, 2019 was a busy day for senior officials at Ministry of Education who took up to the media to hit back on a talk show that was aired in local media platforms three days earlier.
On Thursday, January 17, KT Radio’s Anne Marie Niwemwiza hosted three guests who elaborated on pertinent issues in education sector during the Ubyumva Ute talk show.
Their comments affected students’ placement at the beginning of the academic year, quality of education, school calendar, constant reforms in education to mention and other issues.
One of the highlighted issues was of some faculties namely; medicine and surgery, medical laboratory technology and general nursing that were closed in March 2017 at the University of Gitwe located in Ruhango district, Southern Province.
KT Press has learnt that there has been a conflict brewing between the school and the regulating authority – Higher Education Council (HEC).
According to HEC, the decision to close the faculties was informed by recommendations of the comprehensive external Audit (CEA) that was conducted in March 2017.
To be addressed were issues related to recruiting qualified academic staff, acquiring text books and standard reference books and putting in place a catch up program for the faculty of medicine and medical laboratory technology.
They were also required to equip medical laboratories.
For the following six months, HEC conducted assessments at least twice a month to see whether the school addressed the issues that were mentioned in the comprehensive external audit.
This resulted in the re-opening of suspended programs, according to a letter dated September 22, 2017 where then, Education Minister Dr.Papias Musafiri commended the school leadership for working on recommendations from the comprehensive external audit.
However, the Ministry of education reserved a clause that the school should “implement a catch-up plan for Medicine and Surgery programme and suspend admission/intake of new students into the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery programme for at least two (2) years during which the current students will be able to effectively use facilities under the catch-up programme.”
According to sources that intimated to KT Press, it is from this clause that the prevailing wrangle emerged and is yet to be resolved.
The process of fulfilling requirements came with a cost for Gitwe University. For example, on the recruitment of academic staff, the school says that they were requested to find permanent lecturers instead of using visitors from University of Rwanda, faculty of Medicine.
A letter whose copy KT Press has seen indicates that the school recruited 30 lecturers, mainly expatriates from Nigeria, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in May 2017, to meet the requirements and they put them on payroll ever since.
Gitwe University officials said that they are being hugely paid though some of them are not teaching because they were recruited to teach first year.
Officials at the school told KT Press that this put them under pressure to work hard and implement the catch up program – expecting the decision to close new enrolment to be reversed without waiting for the two year period.
“We speeded up the catch up program such that in January 2018, we had adjusted and filed the report. HEC welcomed the report and said we had complied but HEC did not give us permission to receive new students,” Jean Damascene Ntihinyuzwa, the Public Relations Officer of University of Gitwe told KT Press.
The school would wait until September 2018 when the new Minister of Education Eugene Mutimura visited them and recommended a number of things to be fixed.
He appointed a Task force bringing together Ruhango district, HEC, the Southern Province, among others, to help the university work on the gaps.
University of Gitwe told KT Press, the Executive Director of HEC Dr. Emmanuel Muvunyi himself overlooked the recommendations of the team which had confirmed good progress and appointed a new team of eleven people he led himself.
On Sunday, during two TV talk shows in morning and evening respectively, HEC, Rwanda Education Board (REB) had an opportunity to address several issues in education including the issues related to University of Gitwe.
Muvunyi made it clear that the two-year period that was given to University of Gitwe will elapse in September 2019 but the university said, they have already made Rwf1.5 billion loss in paying staff who are not working.
Since January 3, 2019, University of Gitwe is raising the voice asking high-ranking institutions to have HEC reopen the first year enrollment.
According to Muvunyi said the University has been ignoring several recommendations mainly related to administration.
“From highest position to the lowest official, it is kind of a family business. Vice chancellor is related to the owner; board members are also related. The problem, when you appoint them and they are not qualified, it kills business,” Muvunyi argued.
“There are divisions in that University. We also have issues of failure to pay taxes, pension for staff. They owe RSSB over Rwf100 million. This brings in an issue of retainership,” Muvunyi said.
However, the University of Gitwe seems to doubt HEC professionalism.
They quote the HEC law of January 2017 regulating higher learning institutions in article 66.
It reads “Public, Government-subsidized and private institutions of higher learning operating in Rwanda have a period not exceeding two (2) years, from the date of the publication of this law in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda, to conform their regulations, agreements, organization and functioning to this Law.”
The University in the ongoing fued also links Dr. Muvunyi with some staff who, were either dismissed or who resigned for malpractices. One case involves one Charlotte Ahobantegeye who was a recovery officer.
It is alleged that Ahobantegeye swindled more than Rwf170 million in school fees that she used to collect from students through fake invoices.
“Testimonies we have gathered is that some of the staff who swindled more than Rwf170 million from the school on several occasions met with Muvunyi and they would share that money,” an official from the school who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his security told KT Press.
“The staff includes Ahobantegeye. That’s the channel from which Muvunyi could have been getting the money swindled from the University.”
In phone interview, Muvunyi told KT Press, “Those are baseless allegations.”
When contacted, Modeste Mbabazi, Spokesperson of Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) told KT Press that Ahobantegeye was arrested and the case is under investigation and could proceed to prosecution any time this week.
However, he clarified, “We have a case about a woman (Ahobantegeye), not Muvunyi.”
Responding about the arrears with Rwanda Revenue Authority, the University says they have an agreement, with RRA and will never go against it, “but it is not part of HEC responsibility to recover Rwanda Revenue arrears.”
The school does not believe in the principle that the school owner in a private entity cannot hire a relative, “whenever the relative is competent and delivers to the expectations.” They deny that University of Gitwe is a family business.
Keeping a copy for all highest-ranking institutions of Rwanda, on January 3rd, University of Gitwe petitioned the parliament asking to have their first-year re-open and said the HEC boss is being unfair to them.