Rwandan lawmakers have warned that the government could be losing billions of francs as state law office drags its feet to recover funds as ordered by courts.
The warning was occasioned by submissions from Justice Minister Johnston Busingye who appeared in parliament to respond to audit queries.
Mr Busingye was taken to task to explain steps that his ministry has taken to recover misappropriated funds in cases that have been won in court.
The 2014-2015 Auditor General report noted failure in recovery of public funds amounting to Rwf2.1 billion ($2.4million) accumulated since 2014 from cases that government successfully won in courts.
The MPs also demanded answers from the minister why some cases are never taken to court because investigations time has elapsed.
According to MP Juvenal Nkusi, who is the chairperson of Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the team was informed of numerous shelved cases which were either registered late in courts and could not be tried or were never investigated at all.
“An example is a case relating to construction of Cassava Factory in Ngororero district where two financial crimes namely award of unjustified advantages during the performance contract and deception were committed.
“Investigations were not done properly. We were told that prosecution could not take it up because the time had elapsed. Why do cases expire before they are investigated?” Asked Mr Nkusi.
Responding to the query, Mr Busingye apologised to MPs, saying that more efforts were needed to fast-track execution of judgement on debtors who are mostly reluctant to pay and also attributed this to high number of cases that government lawyers have to follow.
He added that lack of co-ordination between institutions is responsible for the mess.
“On this I want to apologise honourable MPs. This shouldn’t happen, sometimes depending on when the audit was done and when a report was filed, the prosecution would come in a bit late and offences as you know vary in prescription,”
“There were mainly two issues — capacity of workers and sluggish coordination — but so far, we have agreed to work even more closely with the Auditor General to avoid time lapses, and to deal with it sustainably, we have thought of making the penalties more severe on such cases,” he said.
In an interview with Rwanda Today, Mr Busingye said that Penal Code has been reviewed to clarify the exact period a case under investigated can take before its time elapsing.
“If someone commits an offence and goes into hiding for five years and that offence is declared expired after five years, if you went into hiding and we could not find you, the five years will start to run when we see you,” he said.
The minister further explained that the same will be applied for a sentence.
“if a court imposes a sentence and we don’t take you to prison and it expires after sometime, even on that we have now said it is not just counting time, the moment you come in public thinking that time had elapsed, is the moment sentencing time will start to count,” he added.
On the other hand Mr Busingye told lawmakers that the total debt previously owed to government, mostly by contractors who lost cases, amounting to Rwf1.7 billion ($1.9 million) was recovered by the end of December last year.