On May 25, 2017, the Legal Aid Forum of Rwanda (LAF), the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research-Rwanda (IPAR), and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies held a stakeholder consultative forum with 22 government representatives to launch formally the Strengthening Rwandan Administrative Justice (SRAJ) Project, a 3-year initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The three-way partnership between the respective organizations is designed to strengthen the quality, legality, and consistency of decision-making by district authorities in administrative and regulatory cases involving citizens and businesses.
The event at the Marriot Hotel in Kigali brought together officials representing a wide range of government ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Public Service and Labor, the Rwanda Governance Board, the Public Service Commission, the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority, and the Capacity Development and Employment Services Board. Two members of the Rwandan Parliament were also in attendance. The participants, many of whose agencies were consulted for their input on the broad contours of the project at the proposal stage, were asked for suggestions on the project’s current intended approach and invited to participate in individual consultations in the months ahead as the workplan is finalized.
U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica Barks-Ruggles, who also attended the launch meeting, underscored the importance of the project to Rwanda’s development strategy and US-Rwanda relations. “This project will empower the local partners, the Legal Aid Forum and the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, to make informed recommendations on reforms that will enable citizens to access services and benefit from streamlined decision-making at the district level,” said Barks-Ruggles.
The project will focus on decision-making at the local (district) level in three substantive areas: public and private labor regulation, land use, and public procurement. Its purpose is to gather information on how decisions are reached and communicated to citizens in the three areas to generate systemic learning among district officials and improve the quality of the decision-making process.
The first phase of the project will document the legal and policy environment in which administrative decision-making occurs at the district level, examining possible gaps and ambiguities in the formal decision-making framework. The second phase will consist of intensive data collection activities at the district level that will help better illuminate administrative decision-making in practice, including issues having to do with training, resources, supervision, record-keeping, and data usage. The third phase will focus on evidence-based policymaking: analyzing the collected data to help inform relevant training, public outreach, and legal and policy reform efforts.
In the end, such efforts to improve the quality of decision-making can lead to greater public satisfaction and the generation of fewer citizen appeals to the courts or complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman. “When cases are decided properly the first time, and citizens feel they have been properly heard, the number of appeals and complaints should decrease,” says SRAJ Project Director Malcolm Russell-Einhorn, a Lecturer in International Relations in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston. Another by-product of the project is to help inculcate a greater appreciation for evidence-based policy-making and the use of data to target reform priorities and resource allocation.
Government of Rwanda participants at the launch meeting voiced support for the project and offered two major suggestions. First, there was widespread support to include decision-making in the area of social protection to the project’s scope, possibly focusing on social security determinations. Second, there was a desire to see the number of districts targeted for data collection expanded. Moderator Andrews Kananga, the Executive Director of LAF, indicated that these suggestions will be taken into account as the SRAJ Team conducts additional consultations in the weeks ahead.