Rwandans have poked holes in the enforcement of restrictions meant to control the pandemic spread citing exploitation by night patrol security personnel commonly known as " Irondo" and members of the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) to amass bribes and abuse power.
While guidelines stipulate standard fines and penalties for violating respective preventive measures, Rwanda Today established the enforcement varied by Districts, and this left loopholes exploited by individuals to take bribes and harass those flouting the rules.
It has emerged, for instance, that except in routine crackdowns spearheaded by the Police where the rules are followed, patrol teams instituted by grassroots administrative levels to enforce nightly curfews and other preventive measures subject people to paying bribes to escape arrests, or paying hefty fines and embarrassment associated with parading by the Police.
This is largely because the local officials and community patrol teams have been allowed to make arrests of those flouting the rules, who are rounded up and handed over to the Police.
“Bribing is taking place before those arrested get handed over to a nearest police station or the night patrol vehicle which transport violators to stadiums. You will only end up being handed over to the Police if you have no money to pay a bribe. They harass you into paying something to get released,” said Faustin Bakundukize, a resident of Rutagara village of outskirt Nyarugenge District.
Ndayisenga, not real name, who is a resident of Muhima had left home to meet a friend at Nyabugogo where they shared a beer at a local bar disguising as a restaurant when members of the community patrol team enforcing curfew rounded everyone they found inside.
They would later be bundled into a corner as more people caught in other locations for flouting the rules kept coming.
“We knew it was a matter of minutes until the Panda gari (Police car) would come, so they asked those who can pay the fine to do so and go. I called a friend who sent me Rwf10,000 and I was released,” he said.
“Not a single one was given proof of payment for the money and none bothered to ask because all we were going to spend a cold night at the stadium and pay anyway,” he said.
In a separate case, Abraham Musafiri, a resident of Shyorongi Sector of Rulindo was arrested on his way home for wearing the mask below the chin, and he, alongside seven other people were transported to the Sector office and later to the District headquarters where they spent a night prior to being detained at a Tare transit centre where he spent eight days.
While he was arrested several times before for violating the virus preventive rules, it was the first time he was detained.
“This time it was a Police-led crackdown, and even for those who offered to pay fines were not allowed until the end of seven days at the Transit centre and we were given proof for payment,” he told Rwanda Today.
Local officials who spoke to Rwanda Today argue that they had not received any complaints over members of the patrol teams demanding or forcing members of the public to pay bribes, and supervision ensured no such instances took place.
However, similar allegations were documented in the 2020 Rwanda Bribery Index report by Transparency International, which linked local officials and individual police officers to bribery during enforcement of covid-19 preventive measures.
The corruption watchdog indicates the malpractices initially blamed on the lack of clear guidelines on fines.
It is until September that the government enacted penalties and fines for violating Covid-19 protocols.
The fines range from Rwf10,000 in cases found without masks, not respecting required physical distance, or violating the curfew rules while a fine of Rwf150,000 to Rwf300,000 apply to non-compliant businesses.