March 24, 2020

COVID-19: Opposition Politician Ntaganda Proposes Central Bank Directly Pays for Food, Other Basics

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Bernard Ntaganda has defiantly remained in the country as others have fled

The opposition politician Bernard Ntaganda whose party was usurped, and now operates a single-face platform, says government’s interventions to counter spread of COVID-19 virus will leave people dying from hunger.

Government on Saturday ordered a total lockdown of the country, leaving some few essential services operating such as pharmacies and food markets. In the past 24 hours, confirmed cases jumped from 19 to 36, making Rwanda with biggest number in this region.

However, since the lockdown was introduced, it has not come without counter views especially on social media. With no other critical voices, as the usually quiet Parliament is also closed, the airwaves have been left for vocal exiled opposition politicians to speak from the internet.

There is one man though who never shies away from lambasting government for everything from inside. This time, Bernard Ntaganda says the government’s lockdown may stop the COVID-19 virus, but will also result in new “coffins of people dying from hunger”.

Ntaganda says in a statement, which has not picked by any other local media, that the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) should be given a new mandate to directly pay for food and other basics like medicines for distribution to ordinary people.

His unusual proposal has it that the central bank be given powers to bypass commercial banks, then pump money directly in companies that produce essential goods and services so that they are supplied to people for free during the lockdown. The operation, he says should include food, water, clothing, medicines and transport companies.

The central bank doesn’t have such powers currently, admitted Ntaganda, and therefore Parliament should hold emergency sitting to amend law which allows for BNR to do what he is proposing.

Under Ntaganda’s radical ideas, which of course are politicking and will only be laughted at in government circles, the money pumped into those companies will enable them to sustain themselves, as well as pay workers – to keep the economy going after lockdown is lifted.

The central bank has also already put in place a Rwf 50billion facility for commercial banks, as well as reduced their reserve ration from 5% down to 4%. The facility, the central bank, hopes will encourage commercial banks to keep lending to the private sector to continue operating during the Coronavirus pandemic.

For Ntaganda, the money given to commercial banks should have instead been invested directly into the private sector by the central bank.

Another idea Ntaganda raises is on taxes. He wants VAT and customs duty on essential goods and services to be scrapped indefinitely.

The move, he argues, will result in the reduction of prices of essential goods thereby enabling those who are highly vulnerable to afford basic needs.

Ntaganda founded the Socialist Party Imberakuri, locally known as PS Imberakuri, nearly 15 years. He had broken away from another party. He registered his own.

However, several years down the road, he was arrested and jailed for 4 years on charges of endangering national security and “divisionism”– inciting ethnic divisions. Mounting his own defense since he is a lawyer, Ntaganda’s case went up to the Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence in April 2012.

In jail, Ntaganda remained in the news especially on great lakers services of Britain’s BBC and the U.S. broadcaster VOA. At some point Ntaganda went on hunger strike. By the time he was released, his health had severely deteriorated.

But even before Ntaganda could go to jail, his own party colleagues led by tough-talking Christine Mukabunani expelled Ntaganda from PS Imberakuri. As he was in jail, Ntaganda’s followers who remained with him kept releasing statements with the original PS Imberakuri party logo, which continues to date.

PS Imberakuri party leader Christine Mukabunani (C) speaking at a previous event flanked by party faction officials.

While the Mukabunani faction is recognized member of the Consultative Forum for political parties, Ntaganda’s faction has defiantly gone into coalition with exiled groups including the FDLR militia to form the ‘P5’ armed platform which operates from South Kivu in DR Congo, according to the UN and Rwandan government.

Ntaganda’s known followers are either also in jail or currently battling court cases such as armed rebellion and terrorism.

Back to his COVID-19 control ideas, Ntaganda also wanta government to release prisoners with ‘minor sentences’ as a way to tackle what he says is “overcrowding in prisons”.

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