A 51.54km road project in Northern Rwanda may have improved the lives of thousands, but has also destroyed the livelihoods of many others. On the same project, expropriations were done. However, when it came to payments, the level of impunity witnessed there is shocking.
Our investigation, done in collaboration with Radio Ishingiro based in Gicumbi district, has uncovered dirty schemes involving officials of the Road Transport Development Authority (RTDA). Some people on the road’s route were compensated much less than the value of their property, others got more than the value, while some have never received any single cent. In all these cases, though, the common denominator was illegal brokers known as Commisionaires and corruption.
Muzungu Banganirubusa Wenceslas, had houses and two plots of land in Ruyaga trading center located in Gacurabwenge cell, Byumva sector. RTDA valuation put his property at Rwf 42m, a process which was done in 2016 for many others like Muzungu. He was not given any official document showing the valuations. He shared with us personal handwritten notes about what transpired.
Four years later, in March 2019, he received a phonecall in which the caller inquired if it was Muzungu speaking. The caller reminded Muzungu of his property valuation code number. All details spelled by the caller were those of Muzungu.
At that point, according to Muzungu, the caller asked for Rwf 5m cash in order to quickly process the payment of his Rwf 42m compensation. “I was shocked and asked to meet the caller but he refused,” said Muzungu during our interview.
After a few days, the same caller phoned again, this time asking that Muzungu avail Rwf 100,000 immediately so that he can get his compensation money. Despite Muzungu insisting they meet first, the caller refused still. Muzungu, again, was smart enough not to pay.
A few days later, still in March, a woman who was his neighbor phoned him at 7pm, asking that they meet at the Gicumbi district headquarters, to sign for his compensation money. While there, Muzungu was taken into a room where they found Munyaneza Thaddée, the official RTDA valuer for that road project.
Muzungu was given a paper to put his Thumb Print (Igikumwe). The paper was written on Rwf 18m, which Muzungu was told is the total amount of compensation he was to receive for his property.
“I hesitated to put my Thumb Print because the money was less than the Rwf 42m I was supposed to get, but they told me to sign and that the rest of the money would come later,” narrated Muzungu.
Days later, Muzungu received notification for arrival of Rwf 18m on his bank account. He has waited in vein for his balance and attempts to engage RDTA and district officials have fallen on deaf ears. Each office sends him to another office.
RTDA official repeatedly cited
Identified by both names by some victims, and just as “Thaddée”, the mention of him kept coming up in the narrations of different people who affirm they were short-changed on their compensation money.
A woman Kankundiye Leokadia, from Rubyiniro village, Gacurabwenge cell, Byumba sector, had three pieces of land whose total valuation done by RTDA in 2016, was about Rwf 79m. The land had houses and other personal property.
Also, like case of Muzungu highlighted above, Kankundiye also began receiving phonecalls in March 2019, of people asking her to pay them money if she needed her compensation to be successful.
She said: “They knew all details about the compensation I was to get including plot numbers and amounts of money. I was frightened they will kill me once the money comes. I refused sharing my money. The property is mine, how could I share.”
Around the same period, Kankundiye was also called around 11am by Munyaneza Thaddée, the RTDA official, who told her to Thumb Print on a document which had a total of Rwf 51m. There were other people in the room, who seemed so much involved in the racket.
“When I protested, Thaddée told me that the first valuation had been done by young people on internship and had been declared invalid,” said Kankundiye, of what happened on that day. “The other reason they gave me was that the demolitions would not reach our houses. Yet, when construction of the road started, our houses were demolished.”
Kankundiye says ever since losing their property which was bringing them good income allowing her family to live a good life, they currently live in misery. She petitioned the Gicumbi district mayor Ndayambaje Felix about her compensation woes, to which he also responded that she was supposed to be paid the original compensation of Rwf 79m.
Our investigation also found that different other people received phonecalls of people demanding bribes, and then finally met the RTDA official Munyaneza Thaddée.
We have since established that Munyaneza, though directly handling valuations and compensations for the Base-Rukomo road, his official title within RTDA is “Road Construction/Rehabilitation Specialist”.
When all the allegations were put to Munyaneza Thaddée, he was very dismissive. He said whoever didn’t like the RTDA valuation, they were legally allowed to seek a private valuer and present the findings to RTDA.
“They accepted the valuation which we presented to them and they signed. How then can they claim they were paid different amounts, unless if they are suggesting they were forced to sign, which didn’t happened,” said Munyaneza.
As to whether he did have Commissionaires phoning people, Munyaneza said: “If there were such commissionaires, I have nothing to do with them. It is good for you media to ask any questions, but you also have to judge what people tell you before you ask.”
No clear number of who was to be compensated
The Base-Rukomo road was funded by the African Development Bank to a tune of $52m and construction was done by Chinese contractor China Henan International Cooperation Group (CHICO). Construction was supposed to be completed in October 2019.
The above cited cases of under-valuation for compensation and callers seeking bribes, is only the tip of the iceberg. These allegations have been raised in previous media reports. However, it is the first time that names of those involved have been identified by our probe.
While some were underpaid in the final settlement, others, as we found out, had their compensation undervalued at first and then increased later. There is no clear number of people who were supposed to be compensated. Some, whom we interviewed, did not meet any valuers.
According to a report on RTDA site, a total of 115 people in the sectors of Kageyo, Nyankenke, Byumba and Miyove, were adequately compensated in November 2015.
In one case, a man in Kageyo sector narrated that the initial valuation of his property was Rwf 9m. He was approached by “Commissionaires” (brokers) who put it to him that if he agreed to give them Rwf 1m, the valuation would increase to Rwf 17m. He paid the Commissionaires an advance of Rwf 400,000 in cash.
He said: “Immediately the money reached my account, the Commissionaire phoned me. I went to the bank in Rukomo and withdrew their balance of Rwf 600,000.”
There are also cases of people who completely refused to accept the compensation. Sindambiwe David, from Rubyiniro village, Gacurabwenge cell, Byumba sector, received an initial valuation of Rwf 20m for his property which he refused. Shockingly, the RTDA officials returned later and told him that actually the valuation was now Rwf 11m.
Sindambiwe even got to a point of reporting his case to a parliamentary delegation which visited the area. He claims that a private valuer put the full cost of his property at Rwf 45m. Up to this day, he has received no single cent, and the house he lives in is severely damaged due to road construction works.
“Every time I raise my issue with district authorities, they tell me they are still consolidating all compensation claims. I have nowhere to go, yet my house is nearly collapsing on us,” he said.
In addition to serious issues in the expropriation process, there are noticeably poor constructions on the road. In many areas, flood water trenches were directed in farmlands and residential areas – which recently led to landslides, forcing affected communities to seek emergency shelter. We also found out that because flood water trenches are not covered, an old man Ntaganda Gervais, from Gashirwe village, died after falling in one of the trenches. Many people have been injured.
In some areas, the contractor was supposed to put climbing steps at spots with communities. The area is hilly, meaning the road had to be curved from hillsides. For communities to easily access the road, they need climbing steps. The highway is already falling apart in many areas.
Various issues arise from the impunity seen with this project; how come valuations were handled at night? Who else did Munyaneza Thaddée deal with in RTDA to conduct the elaborate schemes? Why were different valuations for compensation presented to property owners? How come people to be compensated were not given any official documents?
The people whose property was lost in thin air, have also lost hope of ever getting justice. We investigated this issue since February 2020, all this time trying to find people who speak about their ordeals. They are scared that coming out would negatively impact them.
By Athanase Munyarugendo
This story was done in collaboration with Radio Ishingiro, a community radio based in Gicumbi district, also covering Northern Province