For laws to stand test of time involve citizens in their formulation

Tuesday December 10 2019

MPs

Rwandan MPs at a previous parliamentary session. The new legislature has been quick to assign blame to their predecessors who they say rushed through the contested laws without first debating them rigorously and taking into consideration citizens’ views. PHOTO | FILE 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that a tax rate charged per square metre of land was invalid, thereby requiring that article 19 of the law that determines the sources of revenue and property in decentralised entities be amended.

This came as a relief to landowners across the country, but put into question how the law was formulated and gazetted in the first place. There have been similar instances of laws being termed unconstitutional at the Supreme Court.

Particularly, the penal code has suffered most defeats and might require another review after several articles that were gazetted, such as defamation of the president and drawing caricatures of politicians were decriminalised.

The new legislature has been quick to assign blame to their predecessors who they say rushed through most of these laws without first debating them rigorously and taking into consideration citizens’ views.

Citizen participation in the legislative process is very low, as shown in the 2018 Rwanda Governance Scorecard 2018 survey by the Rwanda Governance Board. This begs the question: For whom are these laws being made?

Across 37 indicators, the survey showed that citizen participation ranks among the least aspects of good governance. In other words, if citizens’ views were given the weight they deserve, these laws would not go through constant amendments as they are now likely to do.

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Therefore, strengthening the relationship between the legislature and citizens should be a priority; lawmakers should not appear to be remote to the people they serve or distance themselves while formulating laws.

Otherwise friction will exist — as we have seen already — between the laws formulated by politicians and the people they are meant to serve.

Right now citizens have an advantage due to the government’s openness with all laws that are gazetted. Through a mere click on a computer, any individual can access all laws of the country, and each law can be debated extensively among groups of people.

Despite this effort by the central government to provide laws online, lawmakers are often criticized for not engaging their constituents enough and for simply rubber-stamping laws without first understanding whether they are constitutional.

This has to change. Lawmakers must understand that public participation represents the values of an open government, and that it does not reduce or replace their functions as parliamentarians or senators but instead enhances their work.

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