Asset declaration vital

KELVIN Siwale.

THE best practice of asset declaration has a big role to play in anti-corruption and anti-money laundering crusades.Article 263 of the Zambian constitution, Act no. 2 of 2016 requires that all persons holding public office declare their assets and liabilities before assuming or leaving office.
This requirement has been greeted with questions such as: Why should I declare my assets? Is forcing it on me not infringing on my rights to privacy? What is the use of the information?
So, what is and why asset declaration? Assets declaration is basically making known to the public or authorities how worthy somebody is. In the process of doing so, assets and liabilities are declared.
This is a very essential move especially for those who are assuming public office. Declarations are made as one assumes office and then successive declarations as may be prescribed depending on the office or as need arises.
This helps to keep public officers in check. The principle here is that the wealth that one acquires while in office should not be a result of abuse of office.
This means that the extra wealth acquired after the declaration should be one that you can explain in case of public demand. However, this does not stop public servants from making wealth. It is not a crime to do so but it should be through legitimate means.
Sometimes we may be taken to task to explain our wealth. It should not be offensive. Unless you don’t understand the law on abuse of office/possession of unexplained property or you know that you have a lot to hide. If you have acquired your wealth legitimately, it should give you great joy when you are required to declare or explain your assets because this gives you a chance to clear the public. There is no point to start fuming, you are either clean or dirty.
Further, declaration of assets shows the gap between one’s net worth before assuming public office and thereafter. This spurs questions like: How has the wealth increased? What activities is this person involved in apart from holding public office? If you are able to explain all this backed by relevant documentation, why worry. Only those acquiring illegitimate wealth are worried and don’t want to declare assets. The propensity to conceal ill-obtained wealth brings in the aspect of money laundering, under-declaration and non-declaration.
Much as the article of the Zambian constitution alluded to above requires all public officers to declare their assets, for purposes of effective management and enforcement, there is need to have an act of parliament on asset declaration that will apply to all the public officers and any other public or constitutional office-holders that may not be already well covered regarding the issue at hand. Such law should not only apply in certain institutions or when it comes to high-level public and political offices such as the presidency. It should apply to all the public servants. You can imagine the magnitude of work. This is where issues of lack of capacity to handle declarations for all public officers come in, but it should not deter us from making a progressive move in anti-corruption.
In Ethiopia, for instance, a specific department is dedicated to dealing with asset declaration. If you look at the public sector, especially in Africa, it is a big sector, hence not easy to monitor and verify every declaration. This justifies the case of Ethiopia, where all declarations of assets are filed and verified by dedicated officers in a proactive manner not only when somebody is being investigated. Having a dedicated body ensures that all public officers are made to declare their assets and when declarations are submitted, follow-ups are made to check if the filed declarations are correct.
Establishing an independent body or a dedicated unit under an already existing body with little or no other functions but looking at asset declarations, is the only way we can appreciate the value of this important procedure. In most cases, asset declaration has not been explored fully and is mostly taken more seriously on politicians seeking public office. This should be applied seriously to all public officers so that there is no room left for abuse of office.
Further, after declarations are made, not much is done until the next declarations to see how much wealth has been added since the previous declaration. There is need to be more proactive in the management of declarations. This includes verification. Once effectively explored, this system should serve as a preventive measure to abuse of authority of office. This practice should not be left to be implemented at the discretion of chief executive officers. It should be mandatory, and non-compliant officers should be sanctioned. It is time we guarded our public resources at all cost.
The author is an anti-corruption specialist.

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