October 8, 2019

Outgoing Senators In Spirited Defense Of Need For Upper House

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Bernard Makuza, the President of the outgoing Senate, speaking at final press conference today

The eight-year term of the Senate ends this Thursday October 10, opening a new chapter in Rwandan’s parliamentary structure with Senators also serving for five year term, renewable once.

The 26-member Senate was introduced by the 2003 constitution, the country electing the first Senators later that year. The second Senate came in October 2011 – whose term has come to an end.

A 2015 constitutional amendment alligned the Senators’ terms to those of member of the Chamber of Deputies.

However, the upper house has seen its support disappear over the years. There has been growing negative perception over the upper house, with some quarters calling for its removal.

Outgoing Senate President Bernard Makuza was visibly not amused when put to him today at a final press conference whether taxpayers money spent on the Senate was worth it.

“There is complete freedom of expression in Rwanda. Anyone can say whatever they want on any subject,” said Makuza. “However, the opinion of one, or two, or three people cannot outweigh the decision of 99 percent Rwandans who voted to establish [the senate].”

“Political decisions are not taken basing on the feelings of individials who question whether a given leader or entity is useful.”

Senator Tito Rutaremara, a key ideologue of the dominant Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) said that when compared to the US Senate, Rwanda’s Senate plays a more crucial role in the country’s governance.

“Have you heard in the US media people questioning the relevance of their Senate?,” posed Rutaremara, in response to journalist of US government broadcaster VOA.

“Our Senate battles everyday to ensure the fundamental principles [in the constitution] are respected to be able to solve the challenges Rwanda faces. US Senators represent States, but our Senate is the custodian of the fundamental principles that have put Rwanda at its current level. If you are to choose, which one would you keep and which one would you eliminate?”

Figures issued by the outgoing Senate chief Makuza, show they passed 270 laws in eight years, of which 129 laws were on good governance. 98 laws concerned economic issues, as 43 were on social affairs.

The Senate, among its roles, is mandated with approving 245 state office holders including Chief Justice, Judges and envoys appointed by cabinet.

In the 2019-2020 budget, Rwf 5.5billion will be spent on the Senate – with more than 80 percent going to administrative expenses. In total, though, both houses spend less than Rwf 13billion annually – a figure covering a very small percentage of the national budget.

READ: On Senatorial Elections: Do We Need Two Chambers of Parliament?

The final press conference was held inside the Senate chamber.

In the 8 year term, government figures indicate that a total of Rwf 23billion has been spent on the upper House alone. Critics however say this money can be put to better use elsewhere, citing a Rwf 12b shortfall government needs for health insurance.

Meanwhile, among the 26 Senators in the outgoing house, the term of 18 Senators is ending. However, the remaining 6 will continue for another year, and will be replaced by the remaining 4 presidential appointees and 2 others representing the consultative forum for political parties.

Those remaining in the Senate are: Uyisenga Charles, Uwimana Consolee, Mukabalisa Jeanne d’Arc, Kalimba Zephrin, Prof Karangwa Chryzologue and Nyagahura Margaret.

With the ending of the current mandate, it means next week, a new senate constituted last month from elections and appointments, will take up its seats.

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