The management of the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) has appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to explain the long-standing issue of unproductive land that it has purchased around the country but remains unused.
The PAC hearings started this Wednesday, September 5, 2022, with officials appearing before the committee to give explanations on how public funds were used and in response to issues identified in the Auditor General of Public Finance for the year 2020/2021.
The review of investment properties revealed that RSSB has acquired several developable lands (17 plots) worthy Rwf 137.4 billion as at 30 June 2020 and those investments revealed the following anomalies:
For example, expenses spent on idle land for development Included in the above investments is land worth Rwf133.9billion representing 97% of the total investment made in developable land that has remained idle with no business plan for long.
Three of these 17 plots had a Not Applicable comment from the OAG meaning -no idea of what to use the land for.
Some of those parcels of land were acquired with no specific business plans explaining the expected use of each one of them.
The OAG report states that this might have led to the acquisition of land that is not needed. Hence, RSSB incurred unrecoverable expenses related to property tax and plot cleaning fees amounting to Rwf394.5 million and Rwf 2.2 million respectively during the period under review.
“This could have been avoided if the above investment should have been invested in free risk investment,” the OAG said.
The CEO of RSSB, Regis Rugemanshuro said that they bought the land as part of future plans of investing in land as prices keep increasing every year.
“This land is for future projects, if you don’t buy land to prepare and plan to build accommodation in the next 15 years, and this will allow us to build productive projects because, we prepared in advance, since the price of land one would have to pay will be expensive,” Rugemanshuro said.
The PAC showed that the RSSB lands located across the country are only productive at an average of 3% which is alarming.
PAC chairman, Valens Muhakwa pointed out that the land was bought without RSSB having any idea of what it will be used for.
“In this institution, we have to look at the long term. You have land but you don’t know how to use it, that’s the problem here,” Muhakwa said.
Muhakwa said that this methodology of buying land is done by a citizen who says that they don’t know what will happen thus save by buying land and in the end, citizens will be battling for land with.
MP Jean René Niyorurema said that this is a serious problem especially that the government encourages the citizens to use land productively.
“If they (citizens) don’t use the land, it is repossessed, and you (RSSB) are here buying land to keep it for 10 years or so?” Niyorurema commented.
Rugemanshuro explained that when they bought some of the land, they didn’t have an immediate plan but according to their plans, RSSB has been choosing a place for investing in for future investment activities and selling to investors who need strategic land.
MP Jean Claude Ntezimana said that the idea of buying land is not bad but RSSB as a business entity has the ability to get right information about what will be needed in a certain area or for development to inform their purchase moves.
Ntezimana gave an example of land in Kiyovu suburb in Kigali where residents were relocated and almost nothing was done for years, until recently.
“As a citizen, when I pass by and see that the land has been unused for a long time it makes no sense. You should buy from a place where you know for sure that you will not lose anything,” he advised.
However, MP Christine Bakundufite argued that by RSSB purchasing land for the future use, it reaches a time when the land is value-less thus incurring more losses.
“The more you delay in using it, the more you increase the loss,” Bakundufite said.
As MPs engage RSSB to use and invest in profitable real estate ventures, earlier parliament reports indicate that a good chunk of government owned land remains unregistered and to a worse extent unknown.