September 30, 2019

“Abashumba”: Why State Is Unable To Recover Embezzled Billions Of Taxpayers Money

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Anti-corruption billboards are everywhere across the country as part of the government’s tough war on graft. However, there remain widespread accusations that its targeting the “small fish”

In March 2015, Emmanuel Habyarimana, the former executive secretary of Nyabihu district in western province was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years by the High Court in Kigali.

Habyarimana had been acquitted by a lower court of any wrongdoing, against State accusations that he had fraudulently amassed wealth. The Ombudsman’s Office had found that he could not account for property worth Rwf 235m under his names.

As punishment, par the law, Habyarimana, on conviction, was fined double the amount he had failed to justify. The amount which was supposed to be recovered by the State rose to Rwf 470m.

When state-sanctioned bailiffs auctioned Habyarimana’s house and land, they were able to recover Rwf 74, 273,000.

Habyarimana disappeared and did not go to jail. There is still an unrecovered balance of over Rwf 395m.

Habyarimana’s case is one of many where government officials are accused of embezzlement, convicted and are unable to pay back what the state demands from them.

According to the Nkuranga John, head of a unit in the National Public Prosecutions Authority or Office of the Prosecutor General, charged with recovery of embezzled taxpayers’ money, courts have determined that Rwf 7.52 billion has to be paid back to state coffers.

However, just about Rwf 4billion has been recovered.

Speaking Sunday on ‘Urubuga rw’Itangazamakuru’, a program syndicated on various local radios and television stations, Nkuranga saie many of those convicted are found to either have nothing or very little compared to what they are required to pay back.

He cited another case of an unnamed official whom court convicted of stealing Rwf 111m. The official had nothing the state could sell to recover the money.

“We counted everything in his names, those of the the wife and the children but they had no property worth auctioning,” said Nkuranga.

According to him, those convicted eventually confess that they did not personally benefit from the embezzlement scheme.

“Some people are charged and convicted. When they realize it is over, they tell us ‘actually I was only serving somebody else’..” said Nkuranga.

In other words, there are people out there who are using government officials to siphon government money, but they themselves remain untouched.

These officials or ordinary people doing the dirty work on behalf of others are called “Abashumba” in the local dialect, coming from a Kinyarwanda word referring to people who look after other people’s cattle.

Every other year, the Auditor General releases reports showing billions unaccounted for by government agencies. The 2017-2018 financial year report released in April, identified irregular expenditure in form of unsupported expenditure, partially supported expenditure, wasteful expenditure, unauthorised expenditure and funds diverted or fraudulently utilised amounting to Frw 5,681,814,498.

On May 31, at a press conference, Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi struggled to defend government record in prosecuting people stealing from the state and corruption.

A report released by Murekezi showed 108 people were convicted last year over corruption, however, nearly all of them are low level officials and ordinary Rwandans with no decision-making authority.

READ: Ombudsman Struggles To Explain Why Corruption Fight Not Reaching “Big Fish”

Nkuranga, from the Prosecution, said that for the case of Habyarimana the ex-boss of Nyabihu district, more property worth about Rwf 20m had been identified and would be auctioned.

The latest revelations come as Ombudsman Murekezi, as was reported by The Chronicles last week, said that out of over 12,000 officials, only 10 had not filed their wealth declaration forms. They were due for prosecution.

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