New civil society report on Burundi: New anti-corruption strategy lacks implementation and political backing

24 October 2023 –

Click on the report to download it in French!

A recent report authored by the The Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques, OLUCOME) finds that provisions for the prevention of corruption and asset recovery (Chapter II and V of the UNCAC) have been largely adopted into the legal framework in Burundi, but that anti-corruption efforts have been hampered by a challenging national climate. The report is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, produced with technical and financial support from the UNCAC Coalition. 

On Chapter II provisions of the UNCAC, preventive anti-corruption measures have been bolstered by the creation of the National Strategy for Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption (SNBGLC), which was developed with multistakeholder consultation and signed in 2020. However, progress on its implementation was undermined by the fact that since the second half of 2020, the Ministry in charge of Good Governance, as the public institution responsible for the strategy’s monitoring and evaluation has been abolished. Moreover, the strategy was not widely disseminated, and is not well-known among the public. Further, there has been a considerable delay in replacing the UNCAC Review Mechanism focal point for Burundi, who resigned in the second half of 2020.

In terms of implementation of Chapter 5 of the UNCAC, few practical case studies pointing to the application of laws relating to asset recovery exist. For instance, a 2008 law on the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism (LBCFT) calls for the creation of a financial intelligence unit (the CNRF) within the Ministry of Finance, yet this is not yet operational, in violation of article 58 of the UNCAC. The UNCAC expert reviewers for Burundi have also specified in the 2019 executive summary of the review report that the country has not issued guidelines on the implementation of the measures provided for in Article 52 of the UNCAC, on the proceeds of crime.

The official UNCAC review process in Burundi began in 2016, with the country visit taking place in May 2017 and involving civil society. The governmental experts list and executive summary, published in 2019, are available on Burundi’s UNODC country profile page – the publication of the self-assessment checklist and full country report are pending. Since the dissolution of the Ministry in charge of Good Governance and the UNCAC focal point’s resignation in the second half of 2020, no replacement has been nominated, or is known.

For all the detailed findings, read the full civil society parallel report in French. A translated version in English is forthcoming.

Main findings

The following are some of the main findings according to topic:

Preventive anti-corruption policies

As part of the implementation of Axis 13 of Burundi’s National Development Plan (PND BURUNDI 2018-2027), the National Strategy for Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption (SNBGLC) for the same period was prepared by the Ministry in charge of Good Governance (MPBG) following a participatory approach that involved consultation with national and international experts as well as all stakeholders, including other ministries, civil society, the private sector and the media. The strategy was signed on June 3, 2020 by the Head of State. However, apart from the Government of the Republic of Burundi, other stakeholders were not involved in the implementation of these two documents operationalizing Axis 13 of the PND, nor in the monitoring and evaluation of their implementation. To date, these key anti-corruption documents have not been published or disseminated to stakeholders interested in promoting good governance, including the fight against corruption. As a result, the public, particularly civil society associations, are unaware of their existence, the government institution responsible for their implementation, and the monitoring and evaluation reports produced by the Government of the Republic of Burundi.

Anti-corruption bodies

At the time of the preparation of Burundi’s self-assessment report and the publication of the executive summary of the official review in 2019, there were several public institutions for the prevention of corruption, including the Ministry in charge of Good Governance, the Court of Auditors, the General State Inspectorate, the General Inspectorate of Finance, the National Public Procurement Control Directorate, the Public Procurement Regulatory Agency, the general inspectorates set up within the ministries, the Special Anti-Corruption Brigade, the Public Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Anti-Corruption Court, the Anti-Corruption Court, the Burundi Revenue Office, and several others. With the exception of the Ministry of Good Governance, which was abolished in 2020, all the corruption prevention bodies that existed at that time are still in existence today. Nevertheless, some are suffering from a lack of human, material and logistical resources, while others operate subject to supervision by political authorities.

Public sector employment

Law N°1/28 of August 23, 2006 on the General Statute for Civil Servants (SGF) contains all the appropriate measures to implement the provisions of Article 7 paragraph 1 of the UNCAC concerning recruitment procedures, probationary periods, ethics, rules of conduct, civil servant rights and obligations, remuneration and disciplinary procedures. The procedure for recruiting civil servants should normally involve wide publicity of vacancies through official job advertisements. The SGF does not contain specific recruitment procedures or requirements for the selection of civil servants for positions considered to be particularly prone to corruption, or to the early identification of potential conflicts of interest. Moreover, the phenomenon of ‘ghost workers’ has been responsible for significant losses in public funds in Burundi.

Political financing

The Constitution of June 7, 2018 stipulates that the external financing of political parties is prohibited, apart from exceptional cases established by law, and that any financing likely to undermine national independence and sovereignty is prohibited. It adds that the law determines and organizes the sources of funding for political parties (article 83). The Constitution further specifies that, in order to promote democracy, the law may authorize the funding of political parties on an equitable basis, in proportion to the number of seats they hold in the National Assembly. Such funding may apply to the operation of political parties as well as to election campaigns, and must be transparent. Burundian legislation on the organization and operation of political parties is not explicit about the obligation to declare the income and expenditure of third-party actors who may campaign for or against political parties and coalitions or specific candidates. With respect to implementation, very little data is available on this topic, making it difficult to assess the quality of implementation efforts.

Codes of conduct, conflicts of interest and asset declarations

The Code of Conduct for Civil Servants is integrated into the General Statute for Civil Servants (SGF). Nevertheless, certain bodies such as the police, the army, etc. have their own codes of conduct. The office of President of the Republic is incompatible with the exercise of any other electoral office, public employment or professional activity. Deputies and senators holding a position incompatible with their mandates are considered to have resigned. The executives and agents of the public administration required to declare their assets on taking up and leaving office are determined by law. Even members of specialized bodies such as the judiciary are required to file asset declarations before or at the time of their entry into office and at the end of their term of office. However, access to these declarations is not public, and there is as yet no specialized body or staff responsible for enhancing transparency and preventing conflicts of interest within the government.

Whistleblower protection

The obligation of public servants to report acts of corruption of which they become aware in the course of their duties to the competent authorities is set out in article 5 of the General Statute for Civil Servants (SGF), which stipulates that civil servants must not only refrain from any temptation or act of corruption, but also behave as anti-corruption agents, as defenders and protectors of the public service. In this respect, ‘suggestion boxes’ for reporting acts of corruption have been set up in various ministries.

With regard to the protection of whistleblowers, the competent authority receiving information under this law must take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of persons who have given information concerning the commission of offences under this law, who have provided any assistance whatsoever, or who have collaborated with the competent authorities in carrying out investigations or instituting proceedings. Such protection is also guaranteed to witnesses for the prosecution or defense. Whilst lacking provisions on physical protection as well as protection against retaliation for the whistleblower, there have been no case studies of whistleblowers in Burundi, through which the application of such protection can be observed.

Public procurement

Since January 2018, procedures for awarding and executing public contracts have been governed by Law N°1/04 of January 29, 2018 amending Law N°1/01 of February 4, 2008 on the Public Procurement Code (CMP).  The rules laid down by this new CMP are based on the principles of free access to public procurement, equal treatment of candidates and transparency of procedures, for the purposes of efficiency and economy in the management of public procurement. Open tendering is the rule, but bidders are not required to provide information on the actual beneficiaries of bids. Staff turnover in public procurement management continues to be a challenge, alongside a lack of specialized knowledge or real expertise in the field.

Management of public finances

Budgeting has been results-based since the promulgation of Law N°1/20 of June 20, 2022, revising Law N°1/35 of December 4, 2008 on public finance. The new legislation governing public finances contains provisions on public resources and spending; on the budget and budgetary policy; on finance laws and provisions and on budget implementation. The Integrated Public Finance Management System (SIGEFI), which is interconnected with all ministries and other institutions, was implemented in January 2015. SIGEFI is a new public finance management system that was created to regularly produce data on revenue and expenditure, and make it public. Information on budgetary procedures, the adopted budget, its implementation, revenue collected, the main sources of income and an independent audit are available to the public through the Court of Auditors’ reports. Burundi is also in the process of setting up an electronic system for storing supporting documents to prevent their falsification.

Access to information and civil society participation

To date, Burundi has no legislation on public access to information. However, a draft law on the subject has been in the pipeline since 2017. Burundi has had a government-approved national communication policy and communication strategy since July 2013. While the strategy provides for every citizen’s right to information, no sanctions are provided for when it is not possible to effectively exercise this right. An information and communication unit has been set up in each ministry, and any citizen can request information from it.

The participation of civil society in public decision-making processes is ensured through elections, popular initiatives and referendums. In addition, it was customary to consult several civil society groups during the process of drafting legislation, and awareness-raising campaigns on the promotion of good governance and the fight against corruption were conducted through the media and workshops by the former Ministry in charge of Good Governance, in synergy with other public and private institutions. However, with the abolition of the Ministry, there is no longer any systematic dissemination of national good governance and anti-corruption policy documents, and monitoring and evaluation reports on their implementation are currently unknown to the public.

In addition, the activities of anti-corruption activists and human rights defenders have been limited by numerous restrictions which include impediments to their independence, harassment, intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors, as well as the politicization of NGO activities, smear campaigns in official speeches by political figures and surveillance. The shrinking of civic space is a real obstacle in Burundi.

Judiciary and prosecution services

The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by articles 2010 and 214 of the 2018 Constitution, which specify that justice is dispensed by the courts and tribunals throughout the territory of the republic in the name of the Burundian people, and that the judiciary is impartial and independent of legislative and executive powers, respectively. In the exercise of his functions, the judge is subject only to the constitution and the law, and the President of the Republic is the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary.

While the independence of the judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution, this situation is legally paradoxical, since articles 215 and 216 do not give the Superior Council of the Judiciary any jurisdictional powers. According to public opinion, the independence of the judiciary is also violated by abuses by certain hierarchical, administrative, political and military judicial authorities, which give secret instructions to judges to decide cases as they see fit, or take positions in the media on certain cases under investigation or trial, in order to indirectly influence the inner convictions of public prosecutors and/or judges.

Anti-money laundering

 Since 2008, Burundi’s key legislation on preventing money laundering is Law N°1/02 of February 4, 2008 on the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism (LBCFT). Article 12 of the LBCFT calls for the creation of a specialized unit to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism within the Ministry of Finance, known as the Financial Intelligence Unit (CNRF), an administrative unit with legal personality responsible for receiving and processing suspicious transaction reports, and for transmitting reports and other information concerning acts likely to constitute money laundering and the financing of terrorism to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Article 12 of the LBCFT also stipulates that an implementing text shall specify its organization, composition, powers, conditions for ensuring or reinforcing its independence, as well as the content and procedures for transmitting the reports sent to it. This unit, which was created by Ministerial Order in May 2010, is not yet operational, in violation of article 58 of the UNCAC.

Article 4 of the LBCFT sets out the obligation to verify the identity of customers for all the institutions and persons referred to in article 2 of this law. Under article 5, financial institutions must exercise increased vigilance when entering into relationships with politically exposed persons. The UNCAC expert reviewers specified in the 2019 executive summary of their review report on Burundi that the country has not issued guidelines on the implementation of the measures provided for in Article 52 of the UNCAC. Furthermore, it does not have a system for notifying, at the request of third-party States or on its own initiative, individuals for whom increased monitoring is planned.

Measures for the direct recovery of property

Under Article 219 of Law No. 1/09 of May 11, 2018 amending Burundi’s Code of Criminal Procedure, any party considering itself injured, including a State Party, may bring a civil action to recover property or claim damages. According to available information, foreign States Parties have not yet appeared before Burundian courts to claim damages. There are as yet no cases where Burundi has shared information on specific asset recovery cases with other countries proactively and/or on request.

Key recommendations

In its report, OLUCOME makes several recommendations to the authorities in Burundi to ensure the full implementation of the UNCAC, among them:

  1. Implement the key actions identified in the executive summary of the review of Burundi’s implementation of UNCAC Chapters II and V on the prevention of corruption and recovery of ill-gotten gains, especially as these actions have been accepted by the Government of Burundi without reservation;
  2. Popularize the National Policy Letter on Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption for the period 2018 to 2027 as well as the National Strategy for Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption (SNBGLC) which was signed on June 3, 2020 by the President of the Republic;
  3. Recreate a ministerial institution responsible for coordinating the design of the National Policy on Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption, and for monitoring/evaluating actions to implement this policy, following the example of the former Ministry responsible for Good Governance, which was abolished in 2020;
  4. Modernize the legal and institutional framework for the prevention of corruption and the recovery of ill-gotten gains, to ensure better reorganization and more efficient operation;
  5. Ensure compliance with constitutional provisions enshrining the independence of Burundi’s judiciary, including the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In this respect, the laws containing provisions which are unconstitutional should be reviewed;
  6. Legislate public access to information;
  7. Make the Financial Intelligence Unit (CNRF) operational;
  8. Improve the partnership between the government of Burundi and civil society organizations for effective synergy in the prevention of corruption and the recovery of ill-gotten gains;
  9. Negotiate technical and financial assistance from Burundi’s partners to train the staff of public institutions in data collection and processing, and the production and publication of statistics;
  10. Train the key personnel of the institutions for the prevention of corruption and the recovery of ill-gotten gains and provide them with the material and logistical resources appropriate to their missions;
  11. Develop strategies for civil society associations to pursue advocacy focused on restoring the rule of law and strengthening the fight against acts of corruption and related offenses;
  12. Reinvent the legal framework for non-profit associations, to make it less restrictive;
  13. Value the work of civil society organizations, which are genuine partners of the public authorities in promoting good governance and the well-being of the population.

More detailed recommendations are provided in Chapter VI of the report.

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