October 31, 2020

Ombudsman Says: Corrupt “Big Fish” are Sophisticated, Have Protection Networks and Lots of Cash

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Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi is also a former Prime Minister.

Despite all the laws and tough actions against corruption, the people involved are not easy to catch, the Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi has admitted.

In past year, President Paul Kagame has upped the rhetoric against corruption, and several high ranking officials including Ministers have either been fired or facing prosecution.

Kagame is dealing with what are called “big fish” or “Ibifi binini” in the local Kinyarwanda political discussion. Every year, the Auditor General’s reports show that billions of taxpayers money disappear, but those jailed are people paying bribes of as low as Rwf 2,000 ($2.1).

The sentiments about how the public feels about the corruption fight, are passionately evident on radio talk-shows where people can call in anonymously, and social media. The general belief is that those eating big are never touched.

Appearing before Parliament this past week, Ombudsman Murekezi, as usual, attempted to put on a brave face when addressing the issue of “big fish”. He clearly sounded powerless to do anything.

“Evidence is there to speak for itself that corrupt people are not going scot-free. The downside though is that we are also aware that the culprits we have caught are those taking small amounts,” said Murekezi.

And then he made the admission: “People taking big bribes are not easy to capture. They have money, are powerful, very sophisticated in how they conduct their activities, and have protection networks.”

Murekezi said when the powerful individuals get involved in corrupt scheme, they would have already thought ahead what to expect and how they will handle questioning from different anti-corruption agencies.

He said: “They would have carefully planned how they will respond in case summoned by RIB, or how they will deal with questions raised by Ombudsman, or the [National Public Prosecution Authority]. They will have planned how much to offer Police officers to make them friends. Intercepting ‘big fish’ who are government officials or businesspeople is not an easy undertaking, but we are making progress.”

Analysis done by The Chronicles of data of the period from 2016 from different agencies shows not much is happening to these powerful people.

ALSO READ: Rwanda’s Corrupt: Its Men, Young and ONLY “Small Fish”

Last month, court in an unusually rushed prosecution sentenced infrastructure ministry official Robert Nyamvumba, to six years and a whooping Rwf 21.6billion ($22m). He is alleged to have asked for a bribe from an Italian contractor.

However, what didn’t widely feature in the local media from the barrage of reporting about the case is that during the court proceedings, Nyamvumba told court that he never dealt with the Italian contractor. Instead, that his role was to link the Italian with a person he identified as Niyomugabo Jean Damascene, who is a local businessman.

It could suggest Nyamvumba may have been aware the businessman is connected, and couldn’t refuse being the one calling the Italian to come to Kigali for a crucial meeting where the alleged bribe was worked out. While Nyamvumba, young brother of former internal security minister Gen Patrick Nyamvumba, is serving a long sentence, the said businessman remains untouched.

Nyamvumba’s case is of those, many of which have appeared in court, where the person in the dock says the property for which they are being prosecuted is not theirs. In the local discussions, people like Nyamvumba are commonly called “abashumba”, which refers to people who look after other people’s cows.

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

Between 2016-2019, a total of 650 people have been convicted for various forms of corruption, mainly bribes. At least 96 percent of these are MEN, which seems to suggest the face of bribery here is ‘male’.

The three year data which we reviewed also shows those in jail are peasants including farmers, drivers, motorcyclists (abamotari), cyclists (abanyonzi) and small traders. Actually, over 80% on the list were accused of offering or receiving less than Rwf 30,000 ($31) bribe.

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