There is a persistent problem of stalled or failed government big-money development projects and policy co-ordination that cost the taxpayer a lot.
This problem is highlighted whenever President Paul Kagame goes on his meet-the-people tours around the country; but it is also visible to those who keep their ears to the ground.
For instance, on his recent visit to Burera District, the President was met with the problem of the failing “Burera Dairy” farm Ltd. Built at a cost of Rwf488 million and officially launched by the government in February 2016, the factory was closed down in December 2018 due to what officials called “lack of operating capital” and “poor management.” As a solution, officials from RDB, NIRDA, BDF and Ministry of Commerce offered to “privatise” the farm even when they were talking of the entity being owned by “shareholders.”
When the President asked them what would happen if, even after privatisation the farm met with the problem of “no capital” and “poor management,” the officials didn’t have an answer except to concede that privatisation isn’t a solution.
To Kagame, the real problem isn’t lack of capital or mismanagement as such but lack of supervision, co-ordination and ownership of these ventures on the part of leaders from all the institutions concerned.
To the president, it’s inexplicable that institutions like BDF can fund projects without following up to know how funds are used just as its irresponsible for institutions like RDB, the Ministry of Commerce; NIRDA and local leaders not following up to ensure that such ventures are well managed.
Of great concern is the fact that these problems aren’t unique to Burera Dairy but prevalent in many similar government-aided industries around the country.
For instance, similar problems are highlighted in the failing Banana Wine industry in Rwamagana and Nyabihu Potatoes Company Ltd in the Northern Province.
With regard to the Potatoes plant, a person familiar with its day-to-day operations tells me that “It doesn’t produce at capacity” as the machines are not working ... the project was supposed to produce four products but up to now they are producing one product.”
To this interlocutor, the problem is “mismanagement.” The same is the case with the aforementioned wine factory that reportedly cost Rwf1.065 billion but doesn’t work today. Besides these big-money projects initiated by the government to engineer communal ownership of business ventures through co-operatives, there is also discernible limited coordination of certain policies which is costing the country.
For example, due to lack of co-ordination between those in charge of implementing the policy of “Secondary Cities” and those who imagined the creation of a single university from seven, Huye (formerly Butare) economy almost collapsed because after the formation of the University of Rwanda in 2013, most faculties and schools were relocated to Kigali.
That officials only realised after five years that the city’s economy not only depended on university students and faculty, but also that Huye Campus had the largest education infrastructure to benefit the university is astonishing.
Thus, although Huye town is recovering from economic ruin caused by the transfer of most faculties that was reversed in 2018, one wonders who is responsible for this damage.
The same could be said about the failure to meet the deadline to eradicate asbestos roofing in “six months” set in November 2009 by the government.
One could also say the same with regard to the “failure” of Kigali’s “Car-Free Zone” which, while well intended, cost business people a lot without giving the city’s residents appropriate incentives like eateries to partake to and benefit from this space. The same could be said of the students’ loan scheme which, according to media reports is “in peril” due to failure by the Development Bank of Rwanda to recover loans from borrowers. The problem, as Emmanuel Murangayisa, who is in charge of education loans at the bank, is that "Employers and loan beneficiaries do not co-operate ... Many employers do not provide information about recruiting a loan beneficiary.” This explanation is not convincing considering that the government is the biggest employer and most institutions tend to obey government regulations and requests.
To me, I agree with the president’s conviction that the problem here is failure to co-ordinate and own these venture on the part of concerned leaders.
The puzzle is why officials don’t co-ordinate as required or own these ventures considering their development value. And although officials concerned are normally, rhetorically blamed, we haven’t seen anyone paying the price for these failures.
So, we ask why? What is parliament doing? Isn’t it supposed to hold government and government officials to account.
Plus, who should really be held accountable? Is it officials directly concerned or even the Prime Minister who is charged with co-ordinating all government programmes?
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, e-mail: ckayumba@ yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba