The arrest of nine suspects in a multimillion-franc scam at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has raised hopes that the government is finally cracking down on corrupt officials.
The prosecution confirmed that nine people, including senior officials at RBC, were arrested this week in connection with a scheme to award fake tenders and procurement deals to service providers with the aim of embezzling public funds and whose proceeds would allegedly have been shared out among the officials and service providers.
According to reliable sources, the arrested officials include Nathan Mugume, head of the Rwanda Health Communication Centre (RHCC) at RBC John Jovith Maridadi, a technical assistant for Unicef to RBCRHCC Fulgence Kamali, who was working in the health promotion division and Richard Kampanyana, an accountant. Also arrested was an accountant with the Medical Procurement and Production Division (MPPD), the drug procurement arm of RBC.
According to Alain Mukurarinda, the spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), the officials and consultants with RBC were arrested in connection with embezzlement, flouting tender procedures and forgery of documents.
“I can confirm that nine people working with, or linked to, RBC have been arrested and are being questioned to facilitate further the investigations,” Mr Mukurarinda told Rwanda Today on Wednesday. “They will be taken to court next week.”
Without mentioning names, the official said the nine allegedly flouted tender procedures and altered documents to support the processes in order to trick the State into releasing millions, if not billions, of francs fraudulently.
Mr Mukuralinda however refused to divulge details of how much money is involved and when the alleged crimes were committed, noting that it could jeopardise investigations.
Efforts to contact the national police spokesperson, CSP Celestin Twahirwa, to comment on the development were futile. However, the force’s spokesperson in the City of Kigali, SP Modeste Mbabazi, said he was not aware of the arrests.
“Probably the prosecution has more details but at the moment I have no information on that file,” Mr Mbabazi said.
RBC, the body charged with overseeing the country’s medical and healthcare services as well as supplies, has been in the spotlight over alleged mismanagement of resources, going into billions of francs.
The 20132014 Auditor-General’s Report released in April unearthed cases of mismanagement and misappropriation of billions of francs in taxpayers’ funds in botched procurement deals, misplaced spending, negligence and alleged embezzlement.
The body, which enjoys a huge budgetary allocation, came under scrutiny over allegations of squandering public resources on bad procurement deals involving medicines, mosquito nets and other medical implements.
The beleaguered RBC was found to have spent Rwf7.7 billion on substandard mosquito nets since 2012 while another Rwf1.7 billion was used for the purchase of drugs which expired in stores before they could be used.
Billions of francs more had been spent on medicines that were reportedly lying in warehouses.
While appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament in mid-July, James Kamanzi, the director-general of RBC, and Dr Usta Kayitesi, the vice-chairperson of the RBC’s board of directors, struggled to explain the problems in the entity.
MPs recommended that RBC, which was created after the merger of various institutions under the Ministry of Health, should be trimmed to allow some of its institutions to operate independently for proper and more efficient management.
According to the AG, Obadiah Biraro, RBC, through its different bodies, incurred some of the biggest losses in the financial year 20132014.
The drug procurement arm of RBC, which is known as Medical Procurement and Production Division (MPPD), was cited for causing a loss to the government amounting to Rwf7.7 billion. RHCC, which is headed by Mr Mugume, also enjoys considerable budgetary funding, considering that it handles all health communication-related activities across the country.
A source at RHCC told Rwanda Today that Mr Mugume and others could have been netted following an internal audit that was carried out after the AG’s report. The audit reportedly found that dozens of tenders were given unprocedurally.
According to the source, however, close to Rwf1 billion was found to have been paid out without going through proper procedures.
Efforts to reach Mr Kamanzi were futile by press time as calls to his mobile phone went answered.
Earlier this year, Transparency International-Rwanda called for investigations into alleged corruption and embezzlement at RBC which it said could cost the country many lives.
“We appreciate such efforts and call on the government to leave no stone unturned in this investigation,” said Marie Immacullee Ingabire, the chairperson of TI-Rwanda.
Ms Ingabire has on many occasions called on the government to also go for the “big fish” if it is to tackle corruption effectively.