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Senate Powers to Confirm Officials Creates Heated Debate in Plenary

by Daniel Sabiiti
4:22 pm

Rose Mukankomeje, the new Director General of High Education Council

The Rwanda Senate has confirmed the appointment of Rose Mukankomeje as new Director General of High Education Council (HEC) after a heated debate if senators have power to reject a presidential appointee.

This debate was raised at the house as a precaution before vetting Mukankomeje, which was the very first exercise of this kind since the third senate inauguration in October 2019.

“This is the first vetting exercise we are taking. Don’t we have criteria in commission to know the procedure of confirming candidate? We don’t have a constitutional right as senate to confirm presidential appointees,” Sen. Juvenal Nkusi said asking senators to cross check their limits of power.

This inquest opened the house to a scrutiny of its powers and it was evident that most senators didn’t have first-hand clues on this process, especially that they are new in the house.

Sen. Dr. Emmanuel Havugimana seconded the idea saying it would be smart to get this clarified, especially on procedure and senate competence in this regard.

“We need to know if we have the competence to revisit what the president has already taken a decision on,” Havugimana said but seconded the candidature.

On this note, Sen. Prof. Ephraim Kanyarukiga twisted the subject saying that though he did his homework on the subject matter and found that senate has the power, the public interpretation of their role looked like “a formality.”

Kanyarukiga argues that already they have seen and read in media that the candidate (Mukankomeje) was appointed to this post, and wondered what next?

“Maybe it’s lack of experience, but I wonder what we are doing if it’s already made public?” Kanyarukiga asked.

Plenary of Rwanda Senate – November 13,2019

This doubt was responded to by Sen. Marie Rose Mureshyankwano who quoted article 86 of the constitution, which gives power to senate to confirm leaders appointed candidates.

Article 86, that Senate has the powers to approve the appointments like- the President, Supreme Court, High Court, Commercial High Court Judges and Prosecutor General and the Deputy to Heads of public institutions and parastatals with legal personality

“Her appointment falls in the same level provided in the constitution, but second we shouldn’t worry of media report, because it’s not a problem, since we did what the law requires,” Mureshyankwano said.

To cool the doubts, long time serving Sen. Chrysologue Karangwa said the media should not be blamed for the misconception because their reports clearly indicate that the candidates are appointed not confirmed.

To differentiate this terminology between appointing and confirming, Sen. George Mupenzi said that it was not straight if translated in the local language- Kinyarwanda.

“If it’s not a formality, we need to be clear because in the mindset of the public these words are not easy to differentiate,” Mupenzi said.

The committee chairperson, however made it very clear to the house that there was no violation of laws and constitution instead the senate was implementing its mandate.

Mukankomeje confirmation was this Wednesday unanimously voted for by all 24 senators present but with many questions arising in the house.

A Senate social affairs committee report presented her political profile of serving as a parliamentarian, as University lecturer, ICT researcher among others, of which senate approved 100 percent.

Senate also presented her candidature saying that it was well vetted and she was found fitting to run the HEC post, at a time when the council has been rocked by many issues that affect the quality of education in Rwanda.

“Mukankomeje told us she will  access and find solutions for issues inside secondary schools and universities; analyze the high education policy- and evaluate measures used in permitting schools to operate…we found her profile and experience fit,” Sen. Adrie Umuhire said.

Mukankomeje who is well known for her leadership as Director General (DG) at the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), which transformed the green growth agenda, before her sacking over alleged leaking of workplace secrets, damaging evidence and abuse of office charges in March 2016.

Dr Augustin Iyamuremye(Middle), Senate President and his deputies during the plenary November 14,2019

This was followed by subsequent arrest and prosecution, though the charges were later dropped in September 2016, when prosecution withdrew the case, although she had spent some days under detention.

In a major reshuffle this November, she returned to the civil service limelight as HEC DG replacing Emmanuel Muvunyi, who was dropped from this position in October 2019.

Without minding this background, Senate debate, which came with mixed doubts, mostly newly appointed senators, explored and probed the legal spheres of whether the house could change the decision of the president or whether the house just does the formality of confirming candidates.