May 13, 2022

Rwanda’s Courts Management System Controlled by U.S Firm

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Suspects arrive for a case hearing. Usually, they will have all details about their case in IECMS platform before their hearings are scheduled. As small error or lapse automatically leads to postponement, which frustrates those involved

An American developer completed the setup of online system that manages court cases in 2017, and still controls it to date.

The ministry of Justice doesn’t have any access to the system, there are only three (3) Rwandan staff on the system, which as a result requires that to make basic corrections of case files, has to be done by the developer in Washington.

Welcome to the judiciary’s Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS). All details about cases that go through Rwanda’s court are handled by this system.

Lawyers, prosecutors, judges, accusers and those in the dock, all feed data into this system about a given case. However, there have been numerous situations where cases are delayed because someone didn’t put their details into the IECMS, yet they say they did. This automatically leads to a postponement.

A comprehensive review of the IECMS system by the Auditor General found that because the system isn’t in the hands of the Rwandan Justice ministry, the Americans have to be available to do basic tasks.

For example, in one case, a Judge had mistakenly typed 25year sentence for suspect instead of 7years. To have this corrected, an official request was done from Kigali to the company to make the correction.

There are numerous of these cases identified by the Auditor General, a demonstration that the Justice ministry isn’t bothered as to what could happen with this system.

The review is contained in large report by the Auditor General for the year 2021, which was submitted to Parliament on Thursday. The report, as usual, covers a whole range of issues.  

The IECMS system was developed in two phases by Washington-based firm Synergy International Systems at cost of USD 2,167,383 approximately Rwf 2,180,591,138.

The system’s go-live was approved in November 2015 and piloted in January 2016.

Four contracts totaling USD 1,328,845 (approximately Frw 1,336,943,047) for upgrades, technical support, and maintenance were signed from November 2017 to May 2020.

From development to date, the Auditor General says operating system logs/transactions and back-end are not being monitored by the justice ministry. As a result, there is a lack of accountability and responsibility on system transactions. This is because IECMS staff have limited access to operating system and back-end.

The audit suggests a worst case scenario in which there may be a complete data loss in case of disaster or disruption. The reason is because the AG did not get documentation on IECMS backup and restoration testing to confirm whether periodic backup and restoration tests of backup copies are done and maintained.

Even the Auditor General himself could not have access to the case management system because it’s still under total control of the developer.

When asked for comment by the Auditor General about this state of affairs, the Justice ministry said a transition period was ongoing and the system would eventually be handled by Rwandans.

Apparently, on 24th September last year, the Justice ministry signed a contract with developer worth USD 471,639 approximately Frw 474,513,191 for transition plan covering the period of September 2021 to September 2022.

The transition plan covers system maintenance and training of IECMS Rwandan team which will take over the system management by the end of the transition period.

The problem however with this plan is that despite original plan saying the IECMS should have 8 staff immediately, just 3 positions have been filled.

Until late last year, Johnston Busingye, current High Commissioner in London, was the Justice Minister and Attorney General since 2013.

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