If we are going to punish lawyers for doing a shoddy job, no one should be safe

Lawyers sign documents after swearing in as new members of the Rwanda Bar Association.

Lawyers sign documents after swearing in as new members of the Rwanda Bar Association.

No one likes lawyers. They are sneaky, long-winded and have an overly inflated sense of self-worth. There is a reason some say that the word ‘lawyers’ sounds awfully like ‘liars’. However, I refuse to accept such prejudice; and its not because I happened to go to law school. I think, like in every profession, there good legal practitioners and there are some bad apples. So, singling them out for special attention is, in my opinion, a bad idea.

On Monday, I was shocked to learn that public sector lawyers and legal advisors would soon be held responsible for any government financial loss due to bad legal advice they give.

Speaking in a meeting that brought together legal advisors from different public institutions, the Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye said, “This is a new effort to enforce a code of conduct so that you stop making mistakes that have led government to lose billions of francs in litigations. Whoever commits such knowingly will be held accountable”.

Now, I noticed that he didn’t say that the lawyers would be held responsible for any loss, just losses that occur because of gross negligence. In law, as in medicine, the only obligation that a lawyer has is to try his/her best whether or not they are successful (or, as lawyers call it, the obligation of best efforts and not the obligation of results).

I applaud the spirit of the move but I worry about its practical application. For example, who will be the judge of whether a lawyer provided bad advice on purpose or not? Will it be a court or some person in the justice ministry? How will the Ministry be able to prove beyond doubt that a lawyer messed up knowingly and not merely mistakenly?

Lets say that the lawyer is found to have been negligent in his/her duties and the loss to the government goes up to tens of millions of francs. How will a government-salaried lawyer pay back such an amount? Will they be imprisoned? On what charge specifically? And for how long? Until they pay back the money they lost? If they can’t (or wont) will they stay in jail indefinitely?

And if it’s simply a matter of fighting corruption, then why does there need to be a specific rule that only concerns state lawyers? Isn’t the Penal Code, which punishes corruption, stringent enough? And if it is, then why add anything more? And if it isn’t, then why not amend the Penal Code in order to make it even tougher on corruption than it already is?

I have no sympathy for the corrupt and the incompetent. None whatsoever. So don’t think, for one second, that I’m saying that the government should lose billions of taxpayers money because of shoddy contracts and kickbacks.

However, what I AM saying is that every single civil servant should fall under Minijust’s proposed code. Why should only the lawyers suffer? So should Rwanda Revenue Authority staff who undervalue imported products in Magerwa. So, should procurement officers who overvalue ministry supplies and then receive kickbacks.

There shouldn’t be an anti-corruption rule for some and not for others. There shouldn’t be high standards for some and not for their counterparts in other state organs. They are all part of one entity, the public sector, and they should therefore fall under the same rules and guidelines.


Traffic Police needs to become more responsive to daily gridlock

Traffic jams at Gishushu have become a normal part of Kigali living

Traffic jams at Gishushu have become a normal part of Kigali living

 Everyday, from between 7:15 am to 8, and then from around 5:45 pm to 7pm, I do all I can to avoid driving home. That is because I happen to live quite close to the RDB-Nyarutarama road junction. Those who have never passed there will not know the place and those who have will shudder at the memory.

I understand that traffic jams are a normal part of Kigali these days, especially with Rwandans increased purchasing power and the single-lane streets. I really do. However, just because jams should be expected doesn’t mean that we should shrug our shoulders and bear with them. There are things that can be done to alleviate them.

For example, it has come to my attention that traffic police only make an appearance when things have gotten out of hand and there is absolute gridlock. Why aren’t they there, before things get out of hand, to ensure that things don’t get out of hand in the first place?

Such daily oversight is simply incomprehensible. It really isn’t rocket science. IGP Gasana and co, simply order two or so constables to the area at around 7am and later at 5:30pm and make them start directing traffic flow as soon as possible and not when the jam has reached maddening levels.


One thought on “If we are going to punish lawyers for doing a shoddy job, no one should be safe

  1. David says:

    @Sunny. the Minister was addressing Government Legal advisers and the message was specific to them. However, there is a law that is soon going to be gazetted which will constrain every civil servant liable for any loss suffered by the Govrnment to be answerable for that loss by paying back the lost amounts. The law provides for more details including enforcement procedures

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