Was the law really fair to Andre Karekezi?

You have probably never heard of Mr. Andre Karekezi, son of Aloys Karekezi and Rose Nyiramibyuko. He is a farmer from Rusizi he’s in a spot of bother; for you see, he was recently sentenced to five years in jail and mandated to pay a fine of Rwf 4,000. Not for robbery, assault, arson or a major felony but rather for attempting to bribe a public official with Rwf 2,000. I’m not attempting to put our anti-graft laws to task because, truth be told, they are quite effective if Transparency International is to be believed. It ranked Rwanda as the fourth least corrupt in Africa in its 2011 Corruption Perception Index and this was only possible due to the strong anti-graft legislation that our parliamentarians put together.

“If you do the crime, do the time”, is a motto I subscribe to in almost every circumstances. Just as long as the crime warrants the punishment. In Mr. Karekezi case I feel that this wasn’t true. It feels like overkill; while deterrence is a good thing, let’s not for one second forget that we are dealing with human beings who’ve made an error in judgment. And it’s truly unfortunate that a man loses five years of freedom for a bribe worth not even the price of a beer at the Serena Hotel. But even if I agree that his crime warranted the punishment, which I don’t, many of the corruption convictions that were publicized by the Office of the Ombudsman (and discussed in yesterday’s New Times) don’t even make sense logically speaking.

For example, why would Charles Ayirwanda get sent to jail for five years and fines Rwf5000 for receiving a bribe of a mere Rwf 500 while police officer Sergeant Vedaste Kagiraneza received a three year sentence and a fine of Rwf100,000 after receiving a Rwf140,000 bribe? Where is the justice in this? I would think that the judge would be extremely harsh towards the police officer merely because of his position as a custodian of the law but, other than making him pay a higher fine than Charles, Sgt. Vedaste received a shorter jail term. The Ombudsman’s list of 80 definitively completed cases is full of such disparities.

The Minister of justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, when put to task on these rather strange figures, quite honestly made me laugh. According to him, a “Rwf 50,000 bribe in Nyabihu District could theoretically be more valuable than a Rwf 1 million bribe in Kigali”. Well, first of all, I didn’t know that the Franc had various face values in different parts of the country. Secondly, I didn’t know that judges had the powers to define what this ‘new’ value was. But he’s the expert, not I. The Minister knows that there are many holes that need to be plugged in order for our anti-graft law to be deemed not only extremely punitive, but also fair; that is why the entire law is being reviewed. I just feel sorry for those already in jail.

Ignoring the long sentences and the issues they involve (such as the fact that the State will have to fully cater for these people; spending millions on their upkeep), why in the world did the Ombudsman think it necessary to divulge the names of the convicted peoples parents (how else do you think I learnt Karekezi’s parents names)? They aren’t guilty of doing anything other than bearing their children. Publicizing their names wasn’t necessary and I believe that it was an invasion of their privacy. Crimes are personal; if their children have committed crimes and had their names revealed to the general public, so be it. Their parents shouldn’t be punished as well. It is unfair, and despite what the Spokesperson of the Supreme Court Charles Kaliwabo thinks (he’s said that the Supreme Court is ready to defend itself on the issue), it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

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