The Week In Parliament: PAC Winds Up Public Hearings, Environment Minister Answers Questions

The past week was a busy one for the Rwandan Parliament as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) rounded up its public hearings by hosting district leaders and heads of government entities to explain how they implemented the 2018/19 budget as audited by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG).

Bring back our Stolen money

While some districts like Huye and Bugesera had a smooth sail through online hearings where Members of Parliament mostly wanted to hear progress on the OAGs report, some did not have it easy, having to answer tough questions from legislators.

Nyamagabe district which appeared on Monday, had its officials cut short, with the District Executive Secretary, Alfred Ngarambe, thrown out of the hearing after he failed to explain the district’s procurement tenders which had a discrepancy of nearly Rwf350million in planned tenders.

The committee also called for an investigation into Rwf15million that did appear in a private account instead of Nyamagabe district account, which left MPs unsatisfied by the explanations given by officials.

For the first two hours, it was an all smooth ride through for Kamonyi district as the district ES contained all the PAC queries from the OAG report, until a question on how Rwf17million meant for payment of medical supplies turned out as transferred to a private account.

Emmanuel Bahizi, the Kamonyi district Executive Secretary (ES) explained this act of embezzlement was arrested in time and Rwf10million retrieved and the culprit sentenced to three years in jail.

This may have looked like an explanation but MPs were not convinced how the remaining over Rwf6.9million embezzled was not recovered yet the district went on to write the funds as a bad debt.

Since this crime was done under a collective administration negligence, PAC Chairman Valens Muhakwa informed the team that they should actually be prepared for another court case or return the money immediately- an idea backed by all PAC members who also demanded for a date, month and year when the remaining balance will be returned into Kamonyi district public funds.

After a long debate on when the money should be returned, Kamonyi district committed to recover the money in the books of accounts as a debt and find a way of repaying the balance with help of the council.

Poor Management and Decisions

The Parliamentary Committee also pinned Rwamagana district for failure to manage its district staff, citing that most of the employees come to work late.

According to the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) compliance report Rwamagana district staff come after the set arrival time and the district administration has not taken action on this especially failing to print out the arrival time report during the OAG audits.

In response to this query pointed out by PAC as a sign of negligence in administration, the Mayor of Rwamagana district, Radjab Mbonyumuvunyi said that it was an issue of a faulty machine.

“The machine had two issues. Its printing cable was faulty and couldn’t print reports but also the machine itself couldn’t be updated and was counting using the East African time zone, and we even at some point decided to use a registration book,” Mbonyumuvunyi said.

However, MP Christine Bakundufite said this was a lame excuse since other districts have not reported such cases and showed that the alleged ‘faulty’ machine had printed out arrival timelines showing that some staff had arrived at 8am and others came in over 30 minutes.

Deputy AG, Patrick Habimana said that there is a contradiction between what the mayor said and the feedback (management comments) which the audit team was given on site.

PAC chairman said that it is evident Rwamagana staff don’t start work on time and need to change this tendency if they are to improve their performance in the audits and never to return to a public hearing.

Wilson Kabagamba, the Chairperson Rwamagana District Council said these are simple mistakes that should be happening again to end up in the district being summoned for a public hearing after spending five years without appearing in PAC.

Rwanda’s Business Development Fund (BDF) didn’t survive its second appearance before PAC, after the first hearing last month (September 17) ended in the CEO also being sent packing for coming unprepared to respond to the OAG audit queries.

During the hearing this week, PAC went on point to warn BDF CEO to stop abusing his authority to an extent that the institution has failed to meet its core mission of funding local business enterprises.

The PAC assessment on the AG’s report indicated that BDF as an institution charged with financing local small and medium sized business in Rwanda failed to meet this requirement and instead funded foreigner- owned projects.

When asked to explain why this was done contrary to the legal procedures of the institution, BDF CEO, Innocent Bulindi said that:

“We didn’t see this as a big deal in a way that would cost us anything…”

PAC chair Valens Muhakwa immediately cut short the CEO’s comments and said:

“Rwandans are poor and need funding for their projects. How can you say this is not a big deal? Unless you are saying that we are the ones who don’t understand your mandate?”

This kind of response also shocked some PAC members who questioned the sense of purpose that BDF officials have, especially that their OAG report showed losses made in the majority of projects they financed.

For BDF compensated Rwf452.3million of failed projects representing 56% of committed guarantees.

In reference to this, PAC Chairman MP Muhakwa asked the BDF boss to reexamine how he uses his authority if the institution should serve its core mandate.

Mujawamariya in Parliament

In other developments in the August house, the Minister of Environment, Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya appeared before parliament this week to verbally respond to issues within her docket, concerning land use, wetland, forests and water management among others.

The Minister had, since last year, been summoned thrice to the effect but didn’t appear due to work related excuses that were notified to Parliament through the Prime Minister’s Office.

On Tuesday, October 6, Mujawamariya updated parliament on new plans especially on the proposed project to replace charcoal energy sources with use of gas, digital mapping plans for land registration, valuation and taxes, privatization of wetland and forest owned by government and disaster preparedness among others.

On use of gas, Mujawamariya said that a study completed recently showed that Kigali has most charcoal users, and most of the charcoal comes from southern and eastern provinces. The city also has most gas users.

“A pilot phase of replacing charcoal for gas will start with families that use both charcoal and gas in Kigali—this is easy to do because they already know the benefits,” Mujyawamariya said.

She also stated the plan is to gradually eliminate charcoal use, and this will come with replacing charcoal stoves with energy conserving stoves of which a full laboratory has been set up in Kigali to start a research.

On the other hand, the minister said this transition will also be backed by the proposed generation of cooking gas from Lake Kivu methane gas project of which the production is set to start soon.

“This will enable us to conserve forests but also get alternative cooking energy sources,” Mujyawamariya said.

Digital land roadmap

After several queries reported to parliament of changes in land use plans and variations in land taxes especially in districts, the ministry revealed a new plan to digitize all land use, master plans and valuation is now underway.

Mujyawamariya said all these issues will be resolved by a new digital land registration system (RAIS) to manage all land use but also come with benefits of easy access to digital land titles at no cost.

“So far 10 districts have been entered into the electronic registration system, the system will show each land use plan and the taxman will have access so as to determine the land tax regimes,” Mujyawamariya said.

Formerly all land owners were able to access their land titles online but to officially own it they were required to pay for both printing and notary services.

“Now the land document will be verified online and downloadable without owners having to pay Rwf5, 000 for printing fee and Rwf5, 000 for notary to verify,” the minister revealed, adding that the new land law is being revised to capture most of the queries and changes.

The Minister also gave updates on landfill issues in the City of Kigali and plans to embark on recovering land around rivers and lake shores which have reportedly been occupied with human activity, thus breaking the 50-meter distance allowed by the law on natural resources protection.

Minister Mujawamariya appeared before Parliament. File Photo.

On wetland settlement, the Minister assured Parliament that the wider plan is to evacuate all citizens living in designated wetlands and all affected communities will be resettled in planned settlements.

“The chaos in this area will be dealt with by evacuating citizens who have land titles (in wetlands),” she said.

Over 20 MP raised a litany of questions, queries and inquiries of which most of them were on land ownership issues such as valuation, permits and use

The Minister said that a new land registration system is set to be  completed before the end of this year and this will see the removal of a fee of Rwf5, 000 levied on registration paperwork.

On the same subject, MPs raised concerns over the issue of land prices which are inconsistent in every part of the country, but the Minister said that this will be done before the end of year to show the land valuation

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