Rwanda: Experts Back Move to Trim Ombudsman’s Powers

A draft law governing the Office of the Ombudsman has proposed the office cedes some powers to specialised organs.

The current law gives the Ombudsman the powers to investigate and prosecute injustice and corruption-related cases as well as recover public assets.

The draft law seeks to have these powers trimmed to allow the Ombudsman to concentrate on identifying injustice, corruption cases and following up on them until they are resolved.

The bill is currently under the scrutiny of the Chamber of Deputies after the plenary sitting approved its relevance on February 11.

Although it proposes the Office be stripped of its powers to prosecute, it has retained its powers to request the Supreme Court to reconsider and review any judgment rendered at the last instance if considered unjust.

While some MPs expressed concerns over “reducing” the powers of the Ombudsman, legal scholars have backed the reforms.

They pointed out that the reforms will make the Ombudsman focus on preventing and combating injustice, rather than scattering its efforts.

Reasons for the changes

Part of the reasons for the amendment of the existing law -enacted in 2013 -is that there’s a duplication of roles.

For instance, the power to arrest and detain, conducting investigations and prosecuting suspects, recovery of government assets as well as the power to execute judgments that were given to the Office of the Ombudsman need to be given to the organs responsible for investigation and prosecution namely Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) and the organs responsible for judgment execution and public asset recovery respectively.

The explanatory note to the bill indicates the recovery of government assets must be a responsibility of the NPPA.

For purposes of complementing other organs, it explains that the Office of the Ombudsman may retain only the powers to gather information on injustice and corruption-related offences and submit it to RIB and NPPA for purposes of prosecution before courts.

Scholars’ take on the bill

Tom Mulisa, a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Rwanda told The New Times that the establishment of RIB meant that the Office of the Ombudsman’s power to investigate is a duplication of roles

The same, he said, applies to prosecution powers that were given to the Office since there is NPPA.

He said that the Ombudsman can expose corruption cases in the investigation, prosecution and the judiciary, indicating that it can be tricky to do that when the Ombudsman is the one mandated to investigate and prosecute suspected crimes.

On execution of court judgments, he said that there are bailiffs and public notaries to take up this responsibility.

“I think that if the responsibilities are given to the institutions in charge of them, and the Office of the Ombudsman concentrates on identifying and tackling injustice and corruption cases, it can enable it to do more work in that regard,” he said.

Didas Kayihura, Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) Rector, too, agrees with the reforms.

“The current situation makes the Office of the Ombudsman scatter efforts and unable to have a focus on preventing and combating injustice, which is its core responsibility.”

Concerning the execution of judgments, he said it was not in line with the work of the Office of the Ombudsman.

While explaining the relevance of the bill to lawmakers on February 11, Judith Uwizeye, the Minister in the Office of the President said that in other countries, the Office of the Ombudsman carries strategic activities, and that “no other organ can overturn its decision,” adding that they want the same in Rwanda.


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