Government Support for Unpaid Ex-utility Workers

Two energy agencies, the Rwanda Energy Group Ltd (REG), and the Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) owe a combined Rwf 11billion (approx. $11.6million) to some 1,700 employees.

Members of Parliament have warned that the estimated Rwf11 billion in arrears owed to employees of former water and energy utility should be cleared as soon as possible to avoid costly lawsuits against the Rwandan Government. The Standing Committee on Social Affairs said on Wednesday 29 January, that it is not acceptable that the affected workers are still waiting for their due benefits five years after their contracts were terminated.

Rwanda's National Public Service Commission (NPSC) revealed, through its 2018/2019 report, that 14 public institutions were involved in malpractices in the recruitment process. The report found that abuses mainly entailed changing job requirements and marks scored by candidates, leading to some candidates gaining unfair advantage over others.

According to the same report, the two independent agencies that emerged from the now defunct water and energy utility parastatal, Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA), i.e. REG and WASAC, incurred a combined loss of Rwf25 million accruing from court fines from petitions by some of the terminated employees. The Standing Committee summoned heads of both institutions to respond to claims in the NPSC report.

Last year, PSI affiliate SYPELGAZ (The Energy, Water, and Sanitation Workers Union) led by its president Jordi-Michel Musoni, expressed understandable frustration by what it termed as the lack of progress in the proposed compensation of former EWSA employees for ‘wrongful’ dismissal.

“Our case has been eternal, if I may call it so..." - Jordi-Michel Musoni, President of SYPELGAZ

The affected employees were laid off in July 2014 during a restructuring which saw EWSA split into two independent agencies; namely REG and WASAC. Though there had been a series of efforts to address the issue out of court, some of the affected workers dragged WASAC and REG to court as they felt they could not put up with the delays in payments, officials from both institutions told parliamentarians.

MPs argued that the arrears (Rwf11bn) are beyond the capacity of the two utility agencies, calling for intervention from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), and the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA). The infrastructure ministry exercises oversight of the two institutions.

Legislators warned that if the problem is not solved fast, the consequences (losses) will only escalate.

“As the issue stands currently, it might result in further fines if this problem is not addressed swiftly, more of the affected workers will drag you to court and the losses will only increase,” said MP Gloriose Uwanyirigira.

MP Barthélemy Karinijabo said “A person who is owed money since 2014, and now we are in 2020. What is the plan to deal with this problem? This is an issue that should be addressed so that the affected citizens get justice, but also, the institution continues to develop,” he said.

Aimé Muzora, WASAC Director-General, told the lawmakers that some of the affected workers sought legal redress, meaning nothing can be done about their issue until court has pronounced itself. He said that once the case has been concluded and a final ruling delivered, the water utility will then be able to sanction payment of the affected former employees in the water sector.

Geoffrey Zawadi, Director of Human Resources at REG, said that less than 100 former staff of REG went to court, while others have been patient as they understood the need to handle the problem amicably. He said that there are so far 58 former workers who won the cases in court and they are owed a combined Rwf652 million, pointing out that for these, payment orders have been made and, if all goes as planned they might get payments in two weeks.

“Ideally, there is no need to go to court when all concerned parties agree on what should be paid and to whom,” Zawadi said.

In January, 2019, the Ministry of Justice wrote to MININFRA and MINECOFIN advising them to look for a budget to pay due benefits to the former workers. Generally, the officials from the two institutions said that they submitted reports to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning showing the status of the problem, including the number of the former workers in question as well as how much each is owed.

“We see that it is much better for the Government to do all payments this fiscal year because as we delay the process, more people will go to court,” said Ron Weiss, Chief Executive Officer of REG.

“So it is very important for everyone that these payments are done as quickly as possible because the (former) employees are losing their faith in this process as it continues to take very long,” Weiss observed.

* This article and related links were originally published by the New Times Rwanda.