Rwanda: ATI Implementation Constrained

31 December 2015

By Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza and Prisca Ntabaza

Nkurunziza is a medical doctor and the founder and president of the board of Never Again Rwanda. Ntabaza is the programme officer for the Governance and Rights Programmme of Never Again Rwanda. This report is one of the chapters in the State of RTI in Africa Report 2015. Reprinted with permission. The report contains numerous footnotes, not included here.

The Right to Information (RTI) is inextricably linked to democratic, socio–cultural and, ultimately, economic development. Furthermore, it is an all permeating and fundamental right the acknowledgement and expression of which contributes to the actualization of other political and socioeconomic rights. Indeed, the RTI and its accompanying Access to Information (ATI) laws empower citizens to actively participate in the decision–making processes. RTI can be considered to be a core principle in the quest for inclusive development. ATI laws facilitate participatory development and fortify democracy. Moreover, they promote transparency and government accountability while equally being instrumental in effective service delivery.

Rwanda has ratified all but two African Union treaties promoting the Right to Information and in 2013 promulgated a comprehensive and progressive ATI act in line with its constitution, formally acknowledging and underwriting FOI. Since the act is rather new, citizens are yet to grasp the full extent of the ATI law and to assess its usefulness in guaranteeing FOI.

Indeed, the information requests filed have been scarce and there have been no court appeals invoking the act. The Office of the Ombudsman, however did receive grievances from media and lawyers related to the RTI. Despite the existence of mechanisms and a pro–active attitude to improve ATI, government officials tend to prioritize upward accountability and do not work sufficiently with the ‘end–users’ or beneficiaries in order to better fulfill their responsibilities vis–à–vis citizens and even non–citizens in the case of the ATI act.

RTI and corruption in Rwanda

Rwanda is a signatory state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). ACHPR adopted measures to strengthen the RTI including the Declaration of Principles on FOE that elaborates Article 9 of the Charter on FOE, the African Model Law on Access to Information and Resolution 222 on the expansion of Declaration of Principles of FOE in Africa.

Access to Information Act

Access to information by Rwandans will help realise the African Union’s strategic objective of ensuring transparent, democratic and accountable practices in the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. This will decrease fragility, strengthen political stability and effective governance while facilitating sustainable and inclusive development, which ultimately will spur economic growth.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 defines good governance as ‘transparency, accountability and efficiency in deploying scarce resources’. Moreover, it envisions bolstering citizen participation in decision– making. In striving to accomplish this vision, in 2012 Rwanda adopted an Anti–Corruption Policy. In 2013, the Government passed the Access to Information Act.

Corruption in Rwanda

Rwanda is widely recognized as a solid country with high levels of transparency, zero tolerance for corruption, well functioning institutions and a performance based environment with an adequate system of checks and balances in place. This mutual accountability system extends from the lowest to the highest levels and thus ensures reduced wastage and embezzlement of funds.

According to the 2014 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index109 (CPI) Rwanda is ranked 55th out of 174 countries. Compared with the global averages per region Rwanda’s score–49/100–indicates it is doing well in comparison to regional averages worldwide. Except the EU & Western Europe averaging 66/100 is at this point too much of a stretch for Rwanda to attain. In all the other regions Rwanda would score higher than the average. In Sub–Saharan Africa the country ranks comfortably in the top ten, coming in 7th. Only Botswana, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius have a higher score with both Lesotho and Namibia sharing Rwanda’s. Overall, 92% of the countries in the region have a score below 50. Rwanda currently settles right under that threshold coming from 53/100 in the previous years.

Despite these seemingly favourable scores and rankings, some degree of corruption still persists in the lower administration levels and further away from Kigali. The most common forms of corruption include fraudulent procurement practices, abuse of power, nepotism and public funds embezzlement. In addition, the mindset of key leaders in financial management and lengthy administrative procedures are still a challenge, while inappropriate public financial procedures may encourage corruption.

In taking a closer look, however, at the World Bank’s ‘World Governance Indicators’ one can notice three main trends. Firstly, over the past decade (2003–2013) Rwanda has ranked increasingly higher on ‘Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism’, ‘Government Effectiveness’, ‘Regulatory Quality’, ‘Rule Of Law’ and ‘Control of Corruption’. Secondly, it is obvious that the latter has seen a more pronounced and quite favourable progress over the same aforementioned period. Finally, we can derive from the World Bank’s set of WGI that there is one indicator, namely ‘Voice and Accountability’, which has made insufficient progress in Rwanda. Therefore, an important step could be taken in this field by implementing the ATI–law to the fullest extent to empower citizens to realise FOE.

Once more, it appears that Rwanda has taken a significant step in curtailing corruption. The same conclusion can be made from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014–2015 results. Indeed, according to the WEF report the institutions pillar in Rwanda is noticeably more reliable than the Sub–Saharan average. Moreover, some remarkable rankings are to be found per indicator among which is institutions–the first pillar. For instance for the indicator ‘wastefulness of government spending’ Rwanda ranks 4 out of 144 countries. On ‘transparency of government policy making’ it stands at the 8th position. ‘Public trust in politicians’ seems to be quite high as well, ranking 10th. ‘Favouritism in decisions of government officials’ and ‘diversion of public funds’ equally ensure a positive view of the country’s corruption levels in the top 20 positions.

Link between the RTI and corruption

Rwanda has ratified the Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. According to Article 9 of the convention “Each State party shall adopt legislative and other measures to give effect to the right of access to information that is required to assist in the fight of corruption and related offences.” In addition, Rwanda has also adopted an anti–corruption policy.

However, although the level of corruption in Rwanda is relatively low, there is no clear link between the ratification of the access to information act and the level of corruption in Rwanda. This success can hence hardly be attributed to the adoption of the ATI act because of many factors.

Firstly, Rwanda has demonstrated a strong will to move from the past and to address all the challenges that led to the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, including corruption. The determination of the Rwandan people–alongside the efforts of the Government since 1994–has led to tremendous gains in terms of good governance and, ultimately, reduced corruption.

Secondly, the ATI act has not been widely disseminated. As a result, there are still many challenges in the country.

The challenges to the implementation of laws and acts are twofold. On one hand, citizens lack awareness about their RTI and on how to use the law. This has resulted in low requests filed because citizens do not understand how access to information relates to their daily lives. The Government takes the lead in ensuring that cases of corruption are addressed. On the other hand, information officers in most public institutions are not trained on the procedures of disclosure and why information has to be provided. The government has created a platform to enable citizens to contact government institutions. However, the citizens have not used this platform consistently. This is probably due to the lack of awareness of such platform.

The role of media, civil society and private sector

Civil Society

Preventing and combating corruption requires a strong, committed civil society, as the key stakeholder. According to the office of the Ombudsman, CSOs assist both in elevating public awareness and divulging information on corruption. Civil society is expected to monitor public institutions as well as official individuals in the respect of domestic and international legal regimes. In the latter case, CSOs ought to strive for effective sanctions against corrupt officials and/or suggest clear–cut reforms for malfunctioning institutions.

However, the role of CSOs in policy and decision–making is still quite limited despite the creation of the platform ‘sobanukirwa’ by ODESUDI to enable citizens to make their requests. This could be explained by two factors. Firstly, many CSOs are not aware of the existence of such a platform in Rwanda. Secondly,CSOs in Rwanda have long been criticised for their lack of capacity to contribute to policy making and for the duplication of actions. Thus, information sharing and coordination of efforts across different sectors are the two main areas where CSOs need to improve. Very few organisations are working to promote ATI. Never Again Rwanda recognizes that there is a strong need to put in place a coalition to promote ATI and to build the capacity of other CSOs. This could enhance the mechanisms relating to public awareness and to the reporting of corruption.

Media

One of the key recommendations by stakeholders, according to the Media High Council Report is that:

Media should reach out and engage the ordinary citizens in monitoring the use of public resources and demanding accountability through the use of the enacted Access to Information Law as a tool.

According to the report the ATI act is a tool for the media to combat corruption by actively engaging the monitoring the allocation of public resources. The act would also promote accountability:

Media scrutiny and publicity are essential to raising public expectations and public awareness on corruption practices and to cause political pressure to take measures against corruption. It is [therefore] imperative to disseminate through media all information on how to investigate and report cases of corruption.

The media has actively raised awareness on corruption practices. However, the media it does not have sufficient capacity to unveil corruption practices that have not already been exposed by the government. The media is yet to carry out its investigative role. This can be explained by the low capacity of media houses and the lack of investigative and reporting skills. This is recognized in the Media High Council report on the role of Media in Corruption and Crime Prevention.

Private Sector

Both the public and private sectors are implicated in corrupt practices. Public–private partnerships are recommended to combat corruption. The ‘white–collar crimes’ are often associated with the elite who have gone to the same schools. The private sector should fulfill its obligation to thoroughly inform members about the ethical code of conducting business and the laws that regulate business activities.

Under the law preventing and suppressing corruption both public and private institutions are required to set up mechanisms for preventing and fighting corruption The Private Sector Federation has elaborated a code of business ethics and excellence. However the Business Community still needs to be sensitized to adhere to the code.

Although preliminary steps have been taken, the Private Sector Federation is yet to more widely disseminate the code of business ethics. The media, civil society, private sector and government institutions should be supported in the fight against corruption.

Conclusion

It is recognized that the operationalisation of the ATI–act in Rwanda and the full domestication of RTI provisions from international treaties is still constrained by the reluctance of the public agencies to disclose information, low awareness of citizens, lack of capacity of both civil society and public agencies, attitudes on either side, and oversight challenges. Although the Office of the Ombudsman is mandated by law to enforce access to information, progress is still needed in this area.

The effective implementation of access to information law is vital for increasing access to information and strengthening participation, which would in turn build trust and promote democracy. Despite the low levels of corruption, there are still challenges related to accountability of government officials. This is why the implementation of the ATI and awareness raising should be emphasized.

Recommendations

  • The government should reduce lengthy administrative processes, especially in public procurement.
  • The media, the private sector and CSOs should improve investigative and reporting strategies of corruption cases.
  • The media should enhance its ability to raise public awareness on corruption practices.
  • The Government should put in place effective strategies to disseminate the ATI law and Act and ensure that translated copies are summarized and distributed.
  • Information officers should be trained on their role and responsibilities.
  • CSOs should be trained and sensitised on their role on access to information.
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