At 12 years, young Jean Bosco Gakirage was attending a geography lesson at Rutoma primary school in Musha Commune now Rwamagana in 1972, when he experience sight complication and failure to read words on the blackboard.
He told his father about it, but he could not get treated because there was no eye hospital in the area.
With his father, they walked for kilometers to reach for possible treatment from a distant hospital. There, he was prescribed with eye drops to ease his problem and was discharged.
It was only until Gakirage pursued a religious life as a seminarian that he was able to get proper eye treatment and glasses while in Rome in 1996.
Father Jean Bosco Gakirage was ordained and served as Comboni Missionary and after years in the Latin America, Italy and Rome, where he made friends and raised funds to start an eye treatment center back home.
“The experience of struggling to get my eyes treated stayed with me and matured into this idea of returning home to give others a chance to get their eyes treated, of which it would be one way of contributing to national development” says Fr. Gakirage.
As an added advantage to his dream, back home in Musha, where he was born, raised, studied, baptized and ordained as a priest, Fr. Jean Bosco Gakirage had inherited 40 hectares of land from his deceased parents.
By 2005, he had collected €120, 000 from his Italian well-wishers and contracted and engineer, one Michel Mutaganda, for Rwf13.7 million to start constructing the hospital located in Musha sector of Rwamagana District, eatern Rwanda.
The hospital was also named after the donors on its completion in 2009.
The facility commenced eye treatments, providing eye surgery, specs, as its primary services with plans to expand on the 20 hectares that Fr. Jean Bosco remained with from his initial land inheritance after donating some of the land to the community.
As a missionary priest, with assignments from his religious congregation superiors, Fr. Jean Bosco needed someone on the ground to manage the project.
He entered a mutual agreement with two Rwandans- JMV Kamarade Kayitare (a retired army Major) and his wife Abine Immy Numutako, as partners whom he says he had trusted as fellow Rwandans.
“The duo (Kamarade and wife) was introduced to me by one of my former students in Uganda (George Gakuba). They convinced me that they would help with registration of the hospital,” Fr. Jean Bosco told Taarifa.
A conflict would later emerge when the registration was done under a business entity- Bitsibo Health Complex Ltd, instead of Dominicco Montevecchi-Bitsibo Eye Hospital as requested by the priest who intended to maintain his project as a non-profit organisation.
During registration, in the absence of the priest, Kamarade and his wife awarded themselves 20% shares each, and 60% for the proprietor, Fr. Jean Bosco.
When the priest returned, he was asked by his to-be-partners, to follow them at Rwanda Development Board and sign for the shareholding before the notary.
“I sat before the notary, only to discover I was signing for giving away almost 50% of my project to these fellas,” the Clergyman says. “I contemplated, as the notary repeatedly asked me if I was sure of what I was signing for. My conscious trusted them and I said, “it’s ok, these are my people, I don’t have any worry about them.”
He signed. And that was it.
Fr. Jean Bosco. had been conned in broad day light.
Strangely, George Gakuba is on the papers as a shareholder with unknown shares according to the documents seen by Taarifa.
As a shareholder, Mrs Numutako was appointed as the Managing Director of the facility, but the management of the center turned into a dramatic nightmare when the lady suggested the priest never interferes with the finances, appointments and resources management.
Tables were turning upside down so fast.
In documents seen by Taarifa, Mrs Numutako quickly fired one of the hospital directors, Dr. Egide Gisagara, an Ophthalmologist, so that she could have full control of the facility, which is contrary to the Ministry of Health regulations, requiring a health facility to be headed by a trained doctor.
Apparently, Dr. Gisagara’s professional training was funded by the priest on condition that after completing his studies, he would serve the hospital.
Mrs Numutako cared less.
Troubled escalated when the management could not account for Rwf113.8m, plus $8,000, prompting the priest to swing in and block the eye center accounts immediately.
This standoff on ownership and resources management came with implications.
There has been a slowdown and interruption of hospital operations and subsequent diversion of funds from donors to another account by the priest.
He says he had to save his project from complete collapse.
“The donors (Italian) told me that unless this conflict is resolved they couldn’t send any more equipment and money directly. I now run the facility with money sent on a separate account,” Fr. Gakirage said.
The misunderstanding resulted into seeking the intervention of authorities.
There is no important office the priest has not gone to, from the district authorities, to the provincial, to the ministry of health, to RIB, to the Ombudsman and to courts.
He is only left with going to the President’s Office.
But efforts to reconcile both parties over finances, shareholding and management of the hospital were futile.
In a letter signed by the Deputy Ombudsman on July 21, 2015, the parties were advised to seek another authority to solve their conflict.
The Kamarades took the case to a mediation court in 2018.
They demanded the priest withdraws from his powers as the Board Chairman of the company and then appoint another person, and also refund Rwf19million which they claim was taken under his authority among others.
In the mediation case, the Kamarades claims they invested time supervising construction activities of the hospital and technical know-how in registration of the company and follow up of the project activities, which they calculated into financial assets.
In their argument, the couple is seeking that the priest returns Rwf19 million allegedly unlawfully withdrawn from the account, Rwf20m for the lawsuit dues and asking dissolution of their shares at a whooping tune of Rwf150 million.
The two parties had actually signed it into an agreement on September 18, 2014 before involving authorities.
This money was supposed to be paid in four portions; Rwf40million after the agreement, Rwf60m in 2015 and Rwf 25m in 2016 and Rwf25m in 2017.
On his part, the priest alleges he was forced to sign the agreement and adamant to pay since none of the shareholders injected a single coin in the construction activities and the engineer manned the whole project.
“I was locked into their house in Kacyiru and forced to sign the dissolution agreement,” the priest testifies. “And this was after I had been threated.”
The Father filed a case against the family with the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB).
Articles of association seen by Taarifa show that the priest and the Kamarades started a company on October 08, 2009, with shares worth Rwf3million.
This was after the hospital was constructed in 2005.
Now, in a mediation ruling of October 19, 2018, Chief Mediator, Mtr Claudine Gasarabwe, both parties showed intension to divorce.
It was resolved that Fr. Gakirage retains his position as overall owner of the facility on grounds that other shareholders didn’t prove ownership whatsoever.
And that, the parties didn’t follow the articles of association to resolve their conflict.
However, the mediator recommended that the priest refund the claimed Rwf19m.
He dismissed the Rwf20 claims in lawsuit refunds.
The mediator also ruled that Kayitare and his wife be paid Rwf100m. Since they had already withdrawn Rwf17m after the 2014 share dissolution agreement, they now can claim for Rwf83m as balance.
Fr. Gakirage is furious, sad and frustrated.
He says the couple had already taken Rwf113m from the account. He presented to Taarifa a copy of the issued cheque equivalent to the above amount.
The case resulted into a deadlock.
The hospital has closed.
Patients come and are returned. No activities going on.
“I would rather hand the facility to the government but not these thieves whom I trusted and they ended up wanting to reap from my work, which also is tainting the image of the country,” said Fr. Gakirage
In the meantime, patients coming from within Rwamagana district, and as far as Kirehe, Kayonza and Kigali, remain affected by the unresolved wrangle.
Musa Shyaka, 27, from Fumbwe Sector, Rwamagana district, dropped out of school at age eight because of an eye defect.
He never received treatment, and ended up dropping out of school, shuttering his dream of becoming an accountant.
For now he needs medical attention every time his affected eye starts itching with excruciating pain among others problems.
But at a facility that used to receive 40 patients per day, with nine medics, there were only three specialists and no patients seen around the green facility, which has food gardens, flowers and hundreds of macadamia trees overlooking Lake Muhazi.
Shyaka had spent a week waiting hopping he would be treated, but there is no medication at the hospital.
“I couldn’t get treated, so I decided to stay and work as a herdsman at the hospital farm because I am an orphan and have nowhere to go,” said Shyaka.
Numbers of patients have reduced drastically to five a week.
Beds are empty.
Construction of a proposed 400 capacity community eye-training center was halted.
A new surgery facility has also been put on hold.
To continue donor relations and capacity building, Gakirage says he had constructed a house to accommodate eye specialists from Illinois Eye Institute, USA, but its completion has been halted.
While patients like Shyaka don’t know what is going on, many more will only hope that the rural based private eye facility resumes its activities to provide eye treatment, and costly service and rare to find.
The Kamarades declined speaking to Taarifa.
At first, Madam Kamarade picked our call and agreed to meet and share their side of the story, only to switch off her phone before the schedule time and later ignoring our text messages and repeated phone calls.
We held the article hoping the Kamarades would talk to us.
Our efforts remained futile until press time.
Well, even the priest is still in limbo, only reciting the rosary with hope God will eventfully deliver justice to him and the blind people he seek to give a chance to regain their sight.