Last year was a difficult one for Rwandan lawmakers who faced tight deadlines to approve legal documents and Bills in the justice, social welfare and economic development sectors as well as amendments to the penal code — some of which courted controversy.
Leaders of the two chambers of the country’s parliament were commended for their efforts in debating and approving more legislation than the previous year.
At least 85 legislations were approved by the lower house alone, majority of them having been adopted into law, while the upper house capped the year by adopted 13 laws.
While the two houses work day-to-day at committee levels, the plenary sessions normally sit in three divided semesters that stretch out through the year and depending on the urgency of the matter some extraordinary sessions can be called in between recesses.
The main docket of the bicameral house is usually about legislation, oversight of government activities and public representations and parliamentary diplomacy.
Among the high profile laws passed by the chamber of deputies are laws that supported judicial reforms, like the law determining organisation and functioning of the judiciary; the draft law determining jurisdiction of the courts and the law instituting the court of appeal.
Also among other important laws that marked 2017 is the law that made Kiswahili an official language in Rwanda; a law governing and protecting whistleblowers; the law governing Rwanda National Police after major changes that saw its investigative arm become a standalone wing and the new law governing functions of the central bank.
Both Speakers of the lower chamber of deputies, Donatile Mukabalisa and Bernard Makuza, the senate president, commended the performance of the two houses.
They said it exceeded expectations and more focus will be put on the pending work, specifically reports and the laws that are yet to be fully adopted.
“All the received Bills were treated accordingly and a lot of effort was put on legal drafting, cleaning and compilation before final publication into national gazettes,” said Speaker Mukabalisa.
“In my view, the senate performed well in relation to its assigned mandate, I want to thank senators for their efforts and invite them to continue working hard and make the senate an exemplary organ in efficiency and promotion of economic development,” said president of the senate Makuza.
While performing its second most important function, which is oversight of government activities, the year will be remembered as one that saw two different prime ministers appearing before the joint houses.
This was due to reshuffles that saw former Prime Minister Anastaze Murekezi becoming the new Chief Ombudsman, while the new government ushered in Edouard Ngirente as the new Prime Minister. Prime Minister Ngirente was working with World Bank prior to his appointment.
Prime Minister Ngirente appeared before the two chambers to present the seven-year plan of the current government and give reports on the status of education and health.
In his speech on the seven-year plan for the government, Prime Minister Ngirente told lawmakers that the national strategy for transformation sought to increase social welfare, by achieving 100 per cent connections to electricity from the current 34, 5 per cent, with an emphasis on generation and distribution.
The prime minister added that the government has committed to supply running water to all citizens.
The two chambers received annual reports from the Human Rights Commission; National Unity and Reconciliation Commission; Public Service Commission; office of the ombudsman; Auditor-General Report of 2016 among others.
At least 10 heads of government institutions and parastatals as well as 12 district mayors appeared before the Public Accounts Committee to explain their failure to account for billions of public funds as shown by the Auditor-General.
The AG in his annual report for the financial year ended June 30, 2016, highlighted cases of delayed and abandoned public contracts, which led to losses, urging MPs and the state prosecution to take appropriate measures.
Loss of money
The report noted that persistent cases of mismanagement led to loss of tax payers’ money and also undermined the government’s service delivery.
It found that more than 98 contracts worth about Rwf95.7 billion ($111.9 million) had either been abandoned or delayed compared with 70 contracts worth Rwf32.5 billion ($38 million) the previous year.
The AG told legislators that contractors disappeared after receiving payments of over Rwf5.6 billion ($6.5 million). Several heads of institutions including water and electricity utilities, Rwanda Biomedical Centre and University of Rwanda were grilled by legislators.
The year ended with parliamentarians voting on key amendments in the penal code, some of which are laws increasing penalties for defamation, which were met by criticism especially from the media fraternity, which is pushing for the decriminalisation of defamation.