The Ministry of Education is working on a management information system (MIS) to help track thousands of former university students who benefited from a state-run loan scheme in an effort to recover roughly Rwf66 billion .
In an exclusive interview on Wednesday, Education minister Dr Vincent Biruta, said: "Such a system did not exist but we are building it. The Rwanda Education Board is working with the Rwanda Development Board-IT on it and we hope to have it in, let's say, two months' time. It is being tested now, and that will be a very important step."
The ministry is struggling to recover the loans. The number of beneficiaries now stands at 64,058 since 1980. The loan recovery programme was initiated in late 2007.
According to officials, employees actively paying back are 9,564, while employers who are currently compliant are only 388. The total amount recovered since 1980 stands at Rwf 70.8 Billion.
Biruta said the new measures will involve working with other institutions like the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) and the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) to "make sure that we can track all these people" to recover the money.
"Another thing we would like to propose is to make it a requirement for people who are applying for public jobs to produce a certificate from Rwanda Education Board indicating that they have paid back the loan, or they are paying, or they are known to be willing to pay back. It is a combination of strategies but there are other stakeholders who have to collaborate with the ministry, the minister said.
He explained that all public and private institutions, in accordance with a ministerial order, have to report to REB employees who acquired loans for their higher education, but that "not all of them are complying with it."
Dr Biruta admits that it is not easy to track down all beneficiaries, necessitating a combination of strategies.
Those in the Diaspora will be targeted and, unlike in the past where students acquired loans without an official application, the ministry will now require beneficiaries to apply.
"We have written to them, asking them to comply, but if they don't, I think we shall maybe go to them, one by one, and ask them to comply. But there are other issues. Some of these people we are talking about are moving from one institution to another one."
The minister acknowledged that delays in recovering the loans are weighing down on government's wish to sponsor more students.
"It can affect access to higher education. If we were able to recover all that money, we would be able to finance more students. That is a fact. We are reviewing legal instruments. We have to update them and make sure that there are penalties provided for to make sure that those who are not complying are obliged to do so," Dr. Biruta said.
"In the ministerial order which I was talking about, there were no penalties for people [individuals and companies] who do not comply. This is the main weakness."
Beneficiaries speak out
Former beneficiaries, who spoke to The New Times, suggested that the ministry should intensify recovery efforts.
Ronald Nkusi, now a Ministry of Finance employee who completed repaying his loan said employers should be compelled to make deductions from defaulters' salaries.
Abdul Wahab Ntaganda, who works with the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA), finished repaying his loan and thinks that those who have not are being ungrateful.
"I have repaid the loan, and I thought every employer, especially government bodies, were doing their duty as well. This is being unthankful on the side of former students who do not want to repay," Ntaganda said.
Alphonse Muleefu, now pursuing further studies in the Netherlands, suggested that the department should reach out to former beneficiaries who are living and working abroad as well.
"I paid half of my loan, and I still have to continue and finish. I would just suggest that they [Department of High Education Student loans] start encouraging people working outside Rwanda, in the Diaspora, to start paying as well," said Muleefu.
"So many people would like to pay; maybe they can use embassies to track them, to know who in those countries got the government loan, and then start encouraging them to pay just like any other loan recovery schemes."