The Government on June 28(last week) tabled a draft law in Parliament that will put more requirements for faith-based organisations to be registered and allowed to operate in the country.

The draft law determines the organisation and functioning of faith based groups.

It introduces requirements for faith-based organisations to operate after obtaining a legal personality, meet minimum required qualification for lead preachers of their sermons, and conduct their sermons or activities in facilities that meet determined standards.

The bill was presented by the Minister in the Office of the President, Judith Uwizeye, who emphasised that the government wants to bring order in the way faith-based organisations operate.

“Everyone would wake up in the morning and call people to start a church. Setting up a faith-based organisation didn’t require anything. We want to bring about better organisation on the way faith-based organisations work,” she said.

Among other changes to the current law on faith-based organisations, the new draft law introduces a provision requiring faith-based organisations to establish internal dispute resolution organs.

The organs will complement the role that is normally played by the umbrella of faith-based organisations and of the government’s authority in charge of faith-based organisations in dispute resolutions.

Requirements for faith- based organisations’ leaders

Under the proposed law, education requirements have been put on legal representatives and lead preachers of faith-based organisations.

They will now be required to possess a bachelor’s degree in religious studies or any bachelor’s degree with a valid certificate in religious studies related matters delivered by a recognised institution.

The leaders must also not have been definitively convicted of the crime of genocide, genocide ideology, discrimination or sectarian practices.

Members of parliament welcomed the new bill on faith-based organisations, praising it as a good move to organise churches in the country, which have been increasing in numbers amidst suspicion that some of them might be misleading their followers.

“I strongly support this draft law, especially on the requirements for leaders of faith-based organisations,” said MP Theoneste Safari Begumisa.

MP FidèleRwigamba agreed, saying that the bill was coming at the right time given the recent increase of churches that operate without a minimum of standards.

In February and March this year, local government authorities across the country and the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) suspended activities of hundreds of worship places, mostly churches, over failure to meet minimum standards.

The places of worship were closed because they were found to lack basic infrastructure, fell short in hygiene, didn’t meet safety standards, were noisy or had issues related to their legal status.

The draft law will be further examined at the committee level in the House before being tabled back to the plenary for the legislators’ final endorsement.

The New Times’Eugene Kwibuka

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