Rwanda seeks to double its tourism revenues from $ 498 million last year to $800 million in the next four years, but, it has emerged that lack of accountability and even embezzlement, to say the least, could humper this objective.
On September 23 during a public hearing of the Parliamentary’s Public Accounts Committee(PAC), it emerged that, according to the Auditor General’s (AG) report, some $408,486 (equivalent to Rwf363,3million national parks’ permits paid between August 2018 and January 2019 were not recorded on RDB accounts.
Normally, all tourism receipts are handled through the Irembo automatic payment system, but the parliament heard that some tourists paid in direct cash dollars as a result of delayed technology access.
When these payments are made to Irembo (online or cash payments), it is supposed to be reflected on the RDB account number in Bank of Kigali, and correspond to the list of tourist permits.
However for five months (from August 2018-January 2019, parliament heard that the $408,486 was nowhere to be seen.
Genesis of Tourism Payment Scam
RDB Board vice Chairperson Evelyn Kamagaju informed the parliament that this was not detected on time but when investigations were done, the same person (suspect) who had allegedly stolen the money was the inside contact person for the investigation conducted by prosecution.
Kamagaju said that there was a weakness in monitoring the payments made to RDB but explained some progress in the incident but couldn’t explain why they delayed to see the missing payments in their financial reconciliation.
“When the suspect realized the investigation was closing in on him, he escaped but was later arrested and in now in jail awaiting court appearance this Friday September 25, 2020” Kamagaju said.
She also revealed that the suspect’s property worth over Rwf700million purchased within the same period of the missing funds, was confiscated pending a court trial and order to auction the buildings in order to recover the funds.
Kamagaju explained that all this happened because of a possibility that the Irembo official was given access to the RDB accounts passwords and codes thus manipulating and breaching the trust that had been built between the two institutions in collecting tourism revenues.
MPs and the Ministry of finance were not convinced with the progress suggesting that besides the legal proceedings that ensured the incident, RDB and Irembo should take administrative responsibility just in case the suspect wins the court case.
Both MP Christine and Bakundufite and Jeanne d’Arc Uwimanimpaye rejected the fact that RDB board is insinuating their team is totally clean of the financial fraud and insisted that both (RDB and Irembo) take responsibility therein.
MP Uwimanimpaye refused to agree with RDB defense, stating it’s impossible to reconcile tourism lists and irembo payments but forget to attach the actual account funds.
“This is why I insist that there was involvement of RDB finance team because their system is financially smart and not like other organs. The answer is NO and we want to know who is responsible in RDB,” Uwimanimpaye said.
Irembo CEO Faith Keza responded that they cannot take responsibility since they didn’t have access to RDB account and RDB illegally gave account access to their staff, however agreed to take responsibility on sales side of which they have access.
More missing Tourism Revenues
Besides this, parliament uncovered delayed credit of tourism revenues collected to RDB bank account amounting to $365,125 (equivalent to over Rwf316,7million) that delayed to reach the account between 121 to 695 days (more than a year and half).
The receipts were collected between January 31st 2018 and May 21st 2019, of which MPs demanded for explanations after the AG, Obadiah Biraro and his team indicated that such delayed crediting of payment result to something close to fraud “Bank Lambert’.
“The reports have been there since 2017 when RDB signed the agreement with Irembo, but the fraud money has been increasing over years because of negligence from RDB thus creating room for Irembo employees to use the opportunity to steal,” Assistant AG, Steven Safari said.
After all this fraud, PAC chairman Valens Muhakwa gave RDB an order to provide a periodic update on these and investigate how much more receipts payments have been lost in other periods and show the punitive measures taken on RDB officials involved in the above scams.
As a former Auditor General, Evelyn Kamagaju, the newly appointed RDB Board Vice Chairperson and head RDB Audit committee finally said that she will use her experience and mandate to clean up the financial weaknesses in the institution, follow up on financial reporting and give feedback on October 6, 2020.
On top of RDB agenda will be to recover Rwf23.4million which was paid for training its former Chief Park warden, an American who later abandoned the job thus breached the labor contract soon after the training from September 1st 2016-July 30th 2018 ended.
Kamagaju said involved parties will meet this Friday to agree on a five-year repayment plan after RDB turned down his offer of repaying Rwf400, 000 per month which would take about ten years.
The parliament instructed the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to conduct an internal audit with a belief that there could have been more scams within the financial year 2018/19.