Last week, I reacted to a story that ran in The New Times newspaper about REB’s (Rwanda Education Board) threat to forward the names of former university students who had not paid back what REB called their ‘student loans’. I argued in my weekly blog/column (that’s runs in that paper) that the directive to call us loan defaulters was unfair, unwarranted and most possibly illegal as well. I asked REB whether making us loan defaulters, and running our credit rating was the only way to replenish the tertiary education coffers.
It seemed that the article touched a nerve because the usually conciliatory New Times readership came quite down hard on REB. Let me share some of the reader’s comments.
Peter from Kigali writes, “I wish to hear what minister of JUSTICE say on this. If we pay REB today tomorrow we will Pay MININFRA for road/EWSA for public light, MoD for security. My question: What my taxes do in education sector? I didn’t applied for scholarship in REB, I didn’t sign any contract with them only signing receipt for 5,450 RWf/monthly which i didn’t asked (it is like someone buy you a beer and then one day comeback say please pay me back the money i used to buy you a beer). RWANDA is country of laws please H.E save us this baseless practice of REB. I do prefer to pay education tax if it is needed but not paying this rubbish proposal”.
Robe in Kigali writes, “I remember the sleepless nights we passed together with our small radio in the dining room…had I known that I was studying that hard to indebt myself, hell no I would hv instead looked for other options. I paid the last installment in 2011 since then i hv’t got the clearance certificate”.
Bigabo in Rusizi writes, “REB Calling us loan defaulters is going overbooard. We dont deserve this kind of treatment, how do we look back and be grateful for the financial aid we innocently acquired from the govt because we merited to join tertiary institutions when they are starting to brand us thieves, REB should and can do better than that indeed,i couldn’t agree more with you Sunny”.
The last readers comment that I will share comes from Kaggwa Mustapher, a citizen living in Muhima, Nyarugenge. He
writes, “Non-retroactivity of the law should be respected, or else REB will find itself in courts of law simply because of not respecting the then signed contracts with the students. As a lawyer, chances are such that I might even go ahead and claim for damages after winning the case. Do they really understand what it means to be a loan-defaulter? It is more serious than it looks on the outside to be a loan-defaulter in any country. There are other ways of collecting the funds without threatening the beneficiaries, and even get more depending on how you sensitize them. Hey, let those who benefitted from the loans loan not regret instead. Go for study tours to other countries and see how this is done”.
Now, I don’t want to seem as if I’m harping on and on about this topic but REB has left me no choice.
I assumed that the folks over there would take notice of the public unease with the policy and address it in some way. I honestly didn’t expect them to change the policy immediately, but I thought that they would respect those questioning the policy enough to respond to their questions. I’ve waited a whole week but nothing. Not an interview, not a press release and not even a tweet. Nothing. I mean, not even a short statement saying ‘REB takes note of your concerns and will get back to you on the questions raised about the bursary’.
In my opinion, this is due to two things. Either the REB thinks that if it keeps mum, people will forget about the issue and move on. Or, they simply think that they are too high and mighty to respond to a simple writer like me. Well, I can assure them of this; I will talk about this issue one way or another every single week until we, the public who pay their salaries, get some sort of response.
For too long, I’ve noticed that when an issue is raised, instead of tackling it, officials ignore it until people move on to the next issue. Only when the ‘big guns’ such as the President or Prime Minister get involved is there some sort of public reckoning. I think that is why the National Dialogue is so popular; people can question leaders and hold them to account. This way of doing things simply cannot continue. Officials have to understand that they don’t work for President; they work for us, the common folk. And they answer to us, the common folk. They better start answering our questions. That’s what accountability is all about.