A cooperative in Gicumbi district has lost over Rwf 15m from a failed project courtesy of a man so powerful even the office of the Prime Minister has opted to look the other side. He is simply, to say the least, untouchable.
To the ordinary local residents, Hussein Niyoyita Zoubair’s name is a common face known around the power corridors of Gicumbi district, northern Rwanda, bordering Uganda. But to 80 members of Cooperative ‘Nkomeye ku Buzima’, who are all community health workers ‘Abajyanama b’ubuzima’, he is a nightmare.
In 2013, these community health workers in Rukomo sector decided to use their savings to construct rentals from which they hoped would bring them more income. They also had a piggery rearing many pigs.
The then director of Gisiza health center in the same area, Hussein Niyoyita Zoubair advised the cooperative to use a contractor through open tendering. Within days, the bidding was complete, handled solely by Niyoyita, yet he was not a cooperative member. Meetings were held at night.
He provided them a company called “Josee Company Construction LTD” owned by a woman Ntuzukobimeze Marie Josee. Within a few weeks, work started on the rentals located in Tare village, Gisiza cell of Rukomo sector. We have since established this company is fake. It never existed.
The cooperative, not involved in the secret bidding, was informed by Niyoyita that the whole construction would cost Rwf 9,622,041.
Weeks later, the cooperative began to notice that the kind of work being done looked shoddy. The structures did not look anywhere near the money that was being spent, according to Higiro Jean Bosco, current leader of the cooperative.
Then construction work stopped altogether. Suppliers of construction materials, and food for labourers were outraged. One of them Hakizimana Majid went to court. We also found out that Hakizimana was encouraged to go to court by Niyoyita, the Gisiza health center director.
The court in Gicumbi surprisingly ruled in favour of the supplier Hakizimana. When a cost-evaluation was done on the rentals under construction, it found the building had a value of Rwf 500,000. The cooperative was forced to pay the supplier Hakizimana anyway!
Faced with accumulating losses, the cooperative filed a court case against the contractor Ntuzukobimeze Marie Josee and her company. Up to date, despite the court ruling in their favour, the cooperative is still waiting for justice, years later. Reason is because the supposed contractor has nothing in her possession.
Who is Niyoyita?
Our investigation found no documentation of registration for “Josee Company Construction LTD”. We decided to trace the supposed company owner and found a destitute Ntuzukobimeze Marie Jose living with her husband in Gasharu village, Gacurabwenge cell, Byumba sector. They are so poor they don’t have their own house and live in church-provided home.
To our shock, Ntuzukobimeze had her own ordeal about Niyoyita, the Gisiza health center director. She tells us Niyoyita and another accomplice Innocent Gaharambuga approached her asking for her vocational training certificates and ID. She had studied basic construction. They asked her to act as contractor for the rentals construction and would be paid Rwf 30,000 monthly.
However, according to Ntuzukobimeze, Niyoyita never gave her a single cent. She narrated: “I was lured into this project by Niyoyita and Gaharambuga (the accomplice). I had just finished school and had no job. They took me to Kigali to fabricate company documents. It was the first time I ever visited Kigali. I would withdraw money and hand it to Gaharambuga.”
We asked Ntuzukobimeze why, following the court case in which she was found guilty, she didn’t go to the police to report the scheme. “I was threatened by Niyoyita to shut my mouth so I opted to stay quiet,” she responded to us.
The cooperative petitioned Gicumbi district which submitted the file to Police on June 25, 2014. The cooperative also petitioned the Provincial Governor, later the Ombudsman and also wrote letter to the Office of the Prime Minister. No action has ever been undertaken against Niyoyita.
When we contacted the man at the center of the entire controversy, he said he had not much to say because the matter had been handled by the courts. According to him, his name did not appear anywhere in the case and therefore has no case to answer.
He said: “The cooperative claims I made them sign pre-tender document yet the court dismissed it and they did not file an appeal against the contractor. Besides, I was last in Byumba sector in 2014. They should follow up their case with the contractor. How can they say they cant find her yet she lives in Byumba sector.”
So many questions arise about Niyoyita, as to how he has been able to evade the long arm of the law for all these years. We have seen letter from Provincial Governor directing Gicumbi district to follow this issue up to logical conclusion. The district wrote to him letters and he did not bother even respond.
Instead of him being investigated and prosecuted, Niyoyita was transferred from Gisiza health center in Byumba sector to Tanda health center in Giti sector of the same district. At the beginning of last year 2019, he was again transferred to Mukarange health center in Mukarange sector. It is here where he is currently the director.
We have also since established that during the time Niyoyita schemed to steal from the Cooperative Nkomeye ku Buzima community health workers, he was a powerful force in Gicumbi district.
He was member of the Gicumbi district Council, which oversees the Mayor. At the same time, Niyoyita was coordinator of district Youth Council, as well as chair of the Gicumbi district RPF party youth wing. All these are very powerful and influential roles in the local political arena.
By virtual of these positions, it is very clear that no single institution, judicial or political in northern province, could have had the courage to bring Niyoyita to book. He has essentially acted with impunity and no single entity tried to bring him to account, instead, he is doing very well in another sector.
Trail of losses
As the situation stands currently, this cooperative lost the construction tender of over Rwf 9m, plus over Rwf 2.7m ordered by court to pay suppliers. There are also other amounts of money the cooperative incurred on different other things related to this case.
In addition, the Ministry of Health made a transfer of Rwf 1m to the bank account of the cooperative as routine government support. This money was also lost because court had blocked their bank account in 2017.
In addition, 68 pigs died from the cooperative’s piggery because of lack of feed. Since the cooperative’s accounts had been blocked, the members were unable to get money to pay for feed which led to death of the pigs.
When this trail of expenses and losses are put together, the cooperative has lost over Rwf 15m. Niyoyita was able to easily transfer money from the cooperative to himself because before start of the construction project, he had made the cooperative transfer rights over their bank account to the accountant of the health center where he was the director.
We asked private lawyer Tuyisenge Celestin what would happen to the destitute woman Ntuzukobimeze whose name was fronted as the contractor, since court had declared her liable. The lawyer says under the civil commercial law regime, when a person loses a court case and a valuation determines they are unable to repay, nothing is done and the case will remain pending until a time when they can get what to pay. This can last years. So for now, the innocent woman is safe.
For a person living in Kigali and away from Gicumbi, this amount stolen may seem negligible. But for a rural cooperative, made up of majority women, a million Francs alone is a fortune. This amount of over Rwf 15m can take care of dozens of families for a long time.
By Athanase Munyarugendo
This story was produced as a joint report by The Chronicles and Radio Ishingiro, a community broadcaster based in Gicumbi district