Last week, we started our discourse into the legal organogram and regime of assets declaration. While declaration of assets by public officials is mandatory (see Section 140; 142 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Paragraph 11, Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), it is contended by many that public declaration is voluntary and is not a legal requirement for public officials. Today, we shall further explore the legal organogram and regime of assets declaration in other countries.
Transparency International gives us some global analysis of assets declaration.
In April 2003, the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption (ACAC) succeeded in having the Law on the Declaration of Assets by Public Officials completely revised and approved by parliament. It took over one and a half years to convince the government that drafting a new law was a necessary element to the reduction of corruption in public finance. Parliamentary members were resistant to this change. Statements defending their ground such as, “We do not need an expensive body to monitor us, we can do it ourselves,” and “We cannot make public our assets because we risk having our children kidnapped and even being murdered ourselves,” were common. However, reason prevailed.
In Ukraine, for example, approximately one million civil servants and their family members must each year declare the value of their income from all sources, including financial assets such as cash in the bank, securities, such as stocks and bonds, non-movable property such as real estate, movable property such as cars and boats, the beneficial ownership of companies, gifts received and loans granted. They must also declare the sale or purchase of any type of assets, details of any additional jogs or positions held, and their participation in civic or professional bodies. The collated information is published on a central digital portal.
The Ukrainian law on asset disclosure is comparable with other countries in the region in terms of the scope of the information declared and its approach towards public access. While public access can raise valid concerns, the benefits outweigh the costs and any interference with privacy rights in the declaration is proportionate to the public interest. Online disclosure of public declarations has been introduced in many countries and is essential if public servants are to be held to account.
Papua New Guinea and Taiwan: The role of ombudsmen in monitoring asset declarations
Papua New Guinea and Taiwan are two countries where the ombudsman can review and monitor declarations of income and assets made by senior public officials. As an office independent of government, with the investigative capacities to examine the contents of financial declarations, the ombudsman’s office can avoid the necessity for establishing other independent mechanisms specifically for monitoring financial assets. Alternatively, when a large number of applications for information are likely to be disputed, a local government ombudsman’s office can be created to handle these requests. The Papua New Guinea model is widely seen as having had a positive impact. However, in Taiwan, in order to cope with the implementation of the asset disclosure law, the Control Yuan, an agency that monitors government, set up the Department of Asset Disclosure for Public Functionaries in August 1993.
Tanzania governance notice board
The Tanzania Governance Notice Board collates and presents information that is useful for the strengthening of accountability, transparency and integrity in Tanzania. Key statistics, including budget data, audits and other governance related indicators, have been gathered in the TGN database. Though the notice board doesn’t explicitly collect information resulting from asset/wealth disclosures, it is interesting as an example of an IT platform sharing a range of financial information to enhance transparency and accountability.
Liberia: Combating political corruption through asset disclosure
The case of a once war-ravaged Liberia demonstrates how effective asset disclosure can lead to greater public accountability. In late 2004, IFES launched its Money and Politics (MAP) project designed to encourage credibility in Liberia’s fragile political process through the promotion of greater transparency and accountability in political finance. Following a similar approach to that previously employed in Nigeria, the MAP Project began with a comprehensive assessment of the political finance system in Liberia followed by the provision of regulatory support, including the drafting of necessary forms. This work was undertaken with the support of the National Elections Commission (NEC), and in coordination with major political parties and civil society organisations. As a result, political parties and candidates contesting elections publicly declared their assets. These declarations were made available for public scrutiny via the NEC website and written about widely in the press. The electorate thus had an opportunity to make more informed decisions at the polls and to hold the winning candidate accountable in the future.
Having completed MAP pilot projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, Georgia, Hungary, Romania, and South Africa, IFES continues to conduct MAP project activities in Bolivia, Indonesia, Liberia, Nigeria, Peru, and Kosovo. IFES has also developed a set of lessons-learned and best practices for developing disclosure-oriented programmes. The programme claims to offer some relatively simple technical solutions that can, if well targeted and timed, effectively address weaknesses in a country’s system of disclosure. For more information about the project contact Jamie Crowley ([email protected]) at the IFES Center for Transitional and Post-Conflict Governance.
The United Kingdom example
The register was set up in May 1974 and is maintained by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as laid out in the House of Commons Standing Order No. 150. The purpose of the register is to encourage transparency and accountability. It is “to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member receives, which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in the capacity of a member of parliament”. The register is not intended to be an indicator of a member of parliament’s personal wealth, nor is registration an indication that a member is at fault.
Transparency is also promoted by the obligation on members to declare in parliamentary debates or proceedings and dealings with other members, ministers or public servants, all interests, whether registrable or not and including indirect, past and future interests, which are relevant to the business in hand.
While the obligation to register outside employment, sponsorship, property and shareholdings is absolute, in respect of other gifts and benefits the requirement is only to register those interests which in any way arise out of membership of the House of Commons. In line with this principle, the interests of spouses, partners and dependent children are registrable only if they arise out of their relative’s position as a Member, or if they are held jointly with, or by, the member.
The interests, which are to be registered, are set out in the “Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members”, first agreed in July 1996 and revised in May 2002 and July 2005.
The financial thresholds over which an interest must be registered are mainly based, for convenience, on percentages of an MP’s salary: one per cent, or currently GBP590, for employment, gifts and hospitality; ten per cent, or GBP5,900, for rental income; and a hundred per cent, or GBP59,000, for property and shares. The exception is sponsorship, where the threshold has been set at GBP 1,000 to match that set for registration with the Electoral Commission.
In Tajikistan, requirements to disclose assets cover heads of state, civil servants as well as members of parliament. Also, according to the Anti-Corruption Law (2005), assets of family members should be included in their declarations (World Bank, 2008b).
Asset declarations must be submitted by members of the Parliament and civil servants upon taking office/on their first appointment and annually (by 30 September and 31 December respectively) (World Bank 2008a). Similarly, requirements are in place for heads of government, ministers, parliamentarians and civil servants (World Bank 2008b).
All members of the government and civil servants declare their assets to the Tax Committee, but there are no legal requirements for the independent auditing of these declarations (Global Integrity Report 2011a).
In Kyrgyzstan, according to the 2005 Law on Asset Declaration and the 2003 Anti-Corruption Law, the president, ministers, members of parliament and civil servants are obliged to declare their assets and the assets of spouses and children. In addition, the Law on Civil Service also ascertains rules for civil servants to declare their income.
In India, ministers, candidates for election, members of parliament, and civil servants are required to disclose their assets. Legally, the president is not obliged to disclose any information, but the current president has done it voluntarily (Global Integrity Report 2011b).
Members of parliament have to submit their asset declaration upon taking office and upon change in assets. Civil servants are also required to declare information upon taking office, but information on immovable properties should be filled annually. In addition, according to the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, civil servants have to request permission before acquiring any immovable property, and are expected to report transactions that excess Rs. 15,000 (approx. US$ 250) (World Bank 2008d).
In Nepal, all government officials, including the prime minister, ministers, members of parliament and civil servants, are required to declare their income and assets (Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority Act of 1991 and Prevention of Corruption Act of 2002). These officials are also required to disclose the assets and liabilities of their spouses and children.
Government officials are only required to declare the properties owned by them and by their spouses and children. There are no provisions with regard to sources of income, interests, moveable assets or liabilities (World Bank 2008f; Global Integrity Report 2009).
According to the law, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority is responsible for ensuring that members of the government and civil servants submit their asset declarations. The National Vigilance Centre (NVC) is, according to the Prevention of Corruption Act, responsible for monitoring the declarations (World Bank 2008f).
(To be continued)