Former justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama has spoken out on claims that he is likely to face legal charges related to the mismanagement of the affairs of the ministry he once led, pointing out that he is ready to appear in court and clear his name.
The former High Court judge who was dropped from the Cabinet in May this year, has been a source of many speculations, including claims that he authorised the spending of government funds amounting to Rwf163 million on expatriates hired by the ministry without going through the right procedure.
According to reports appearing in local media, Mr Karugarama who had been at the helm in the Justice Ministry since 2006 and served as the Attorney General, also authorised the renting out of his mansion for $3,000 a month to the said legal expatriates, without following the normal tendering procedures.
The now retired senior civil servant, who is also accused of wrongfully dismissing two employees of the ministry who have since been reinstated, told Rwanda Today that his conscience is clear and that he has no case to answer whatsoever because he left a clean record.
“I do not know of any charges against me, I have not received any court sermons but I say if there are coming my way, I am ready to appear before the courts of law and defend myself against them,” Mr Karugarama said.
Karugarama however says he is a “clean man” whose efforts to ensure transparency in the ministry were misconceived but added that he is willing to defend himself if he is called upon.
His dismissal in May was a source of speculation, with some claiming that he could have been dropped for his views on a third term for President Paul Kagame which he echoed in the UK newspaper The Guardian.
In an interview with Rwanda Today, the seasoned judge said that he will come out to set the record straight soon.
According to reports, the former minister dismissed two employees after finding out that they had inflated the cost of a tender to fix curtains from Rwf6 million to Rwf14 million.
The case dating back to 2010 involves Xaverine Mukaneza, who was a tendering officer and Consolee Nyirakamana who was in charge of logistics, and whom Mr Karugarama said connived to inflate the cost of the tender.
In August, the Minister wrote to the prosecutor’s office for investigations into the alleged corruption and it was indeed found that the actual cost of the work done was worth Rwf6.9 million yet the actual bill presented to the ministry was Rwf14 million.
After thorough investigations, Karugarama advised the Ministry of Labour and Public Service to either dismiss the duo or suspend them and then transfer them to another ministry.
For the following two years, the two women went through the courts and the Ombudsman’s office and they were cleared of any wrongdoing but Mr Karugarama maintained that they cannot be taken back into the ministry of justice, advising the ministry in charge of public service to move them elsewhere.
However, after persistent pressure, the duo was reinstated by Karugarama’s successor Johnston Busingye who was appointed justice minister.
Now the two women, who were temporarily remanded for two months after the curtain scandal, have turned around to accuse the former minister of hounding them out of office because they knew about his plans to gain from the expatriates which the ministry hired to help draft international contracts.
Drawing in many victims
The tender saga, which Karugarama was determined to pursue to the end, drew in more ministry officials including the permanent secretary at the time Esperance Nyirasafari, the Financial Controller Simeon Sehumbya as well as Frodouard Munyangabe and Nadia Gashumba who were members of the tendering committee.
The minister’s determination to ensure that public monies were well spent rubbed some of the officials in the ministry the wrong way but before he knew it, the two women turned around to say that they knew of the minister’s plan to benefit from the six expatriates the ministry had hired as consultants.
In an interview with a local newspaper, the two women who had been relieved of their duties, said that they suspected that theirs was a case of being witch hunted because they were aware of Karugarama’s sinister plan to flout tender procedures to push the ministry to rent his mansion located a few metres from the ministry.
However Karugarama denies any knowledge of the allegations but maintains he would still dismiss the same women if he returned to the ministry today.
“I would still fire them if I returned to the ministry of justice. They are dishonest people who wanted to steal taxpayer’s money,” he said.
On the mansion, Karugarama said that the house in question was not his and it was actually not rented. Another house was picked over the proposed mansion located in Kimihurura to accommodate the American legal expatriates.
“Those are lies. I do not have a house in Kimihurura. The house that is being talked about as I understand belongs to ambassador William Nkurunziza but it was not even taken by the ministry. So I don’t even know what they are talking about,” Karugarama said.
The two women claim the alleged covert plan to rent out the house and pay other benefits to the expatriates would have cost the government some Rwf163 million ($251,720) but they claim to have blocked it to the chagrin of the minister. After being reinstated, Mukaneza and Nyirakamana now say they will seek legal redress for compensation after the suffering they have gone through.
“We went two years without pay. Our families and careers have been affected by the wrongful dismissal,” they argued.
Mukaneza claims that she was detained for two months and was pregnant at the time and that she was stripped of a chance to pursue her Masters degree in Holland. They both want the government to pay them a sum equivalent to two years’ salary.