OccupyGhana has backed the Auditor-General’s moves to tighten the noose around audit for the 2019 financial year to include the declaration of assets and liabilities of public officeholders in line with the 1992 Constitution.
The Auditor-General said the move was to ensure the compliance of all public institutions with the provisions of Article 286 of the Constitution and Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act,1998 (Act 550).
“A person who holds a public office as listed below shall submit to the Auditor-General a written declaration of all properties or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by him whether directly or indirectly: before taking office, at the end of every four years; and at the end of his term of office,” the Auditor-General stated.
In a message to mark 'Constitution Day', which fell on January 7, 2020, OccupyGhana highlighted an aspect of Ghana’s Constitution that has been largely ignored by successive governments, but which is currently being forced to the front burner by the Auditor-General: the declaration of assets and liabilities by public officeholders.
According to OccupyGhana, affected officers must file the declarations at the specific times prescribed by the Constitution, for which reason the six-month extension granted by statute is unconstitutional and must be repealed.
It stated that the over 40,000 public officers in default must be compelled to comply forthwith.
It charged the Auditor-General to end the unconstitutional system of secret, unverified declarations.
Time for filing
OccupyGhana stated that the constitution expressly and mandatorily requires that prescribed officeholders must declare their assets and liabilities to the Auditor-General before taking office on every fourth anniversary thereafter, as well as at the end of a person's term of office.
The pressure group demanded strict compliance with these mandatory timelines.
“That is why we remain convinced that the provision in section 1(4) of Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550), which gives a six-month extension for making declarations, is unconstitutional and void.
“We therefore repeat our invitation to the government to take immediate steps to repeal this offending provision, without us having to proceed to the Supreme Court to have it struck down as unconstitutional,” it stressed.
OccupyGhana argued that the Constitution prescribed specific public officeholders who had to declare, and allowed Parliament to extend the coverage to other public officeholders and that was what Parliament did when it passed Act 550, Schedule 1, of which contains the extended list.
Unfortunately, it said the vast majority of public officeholders, numbering 40,000, have simply failed, refused or neglected to make the declarations.
While contemplating legal action against every public officeholder in breach, OccupyGhana said it became aware of the Auditor-General’s December 31, 2019 circular that announced that henceforth the declarations would be considered part of audits and that offending officers shall be reported to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice for action as required by Article 287 of the Constitution.
“Since then, we have become aware of some frantic and even desperate efforts by some heads of affected institutions to ensure compliance within those institutions.
“We commend this to every institution mentioned in the law. As the saying goes, ‘better late than never,'" it added.
End of secret declarations
The fact is that even in the relatively few circumstances where declarations have been made, they have been made in sealed envelopes to the Auditor-General and remain unopened, unaudited and unverified.
“However an automatic audit or verification would ascertain whether (i) the assets and liabilities were declared in accordance with the law, (ii) the assets declared actually exist, so as to prevent 'assumptive' declarations (where the person declares non-existing assets now, based on the assumption that through corruption those assets may be acquired later), (iii) the declarations were submitted within the time provided by the Constitution, and (iv) any new assets were acquired or liabilities discharged while in office, so that an inquiry may be conducted into whether those assets or the means to settle the declared liabilities were genuinely acquired,” OccupyGhana stated.
Sadly, successive Auditors-General have not considered it part of their obligations under the Constitution to open the sealed envelopes, let alone verify or audit their contents, the pressure group lamented.
According to OccupyGhana, there is nothing in Article 286 that supports the current "secret declaration," which is a contradiction in terms, explaining that the concept of a "secret declaration" that remains uninspected in the hands of the Auditor-General is not just alien to the Constitution, but an anathema, and is therefore unconstitutional.
In the view of the pressure group, verification by the Auditor-General is the only way to give life to Article 286(3) as follows:
"Any property or assets acquired by a public officer after the initial declaration required by clause (1) of this article and which is not reasonably attributable to income, gift, loan, inheritance or any other reasonable source shall be deemed to have been acquired in contravention of this Constitution."
It argued that the current stance, therefore, flies in the face of the probity, accountability and transparency provisions in the Preamble to the Constitution, negates the mandatory obligation placed on the state under Article 35(8) "to eradicate corrupt practices," and claws back the duty placed on citizens by Article 41 "to protect and preserve public property and expose and combat misuse and waste of public funds and property."
It charged the government to take the lead in this matter and simply ensure that affected officers comply with the law.
“Further, we do not think that the government wants to wait for years of litigation before simply repealing the six-month extension for the declarations.
“While saluting and congratulating Ghanaians on the 26th anniversary of the Fourth Republican Constitution, we wish to remind ourselves that there is a lot more to do to safeguard the Constitution and make its provisions relevant.
“We once again invite all Ghanaians to occupy our spaces because if each of us does a little, together we will do a lot,” it said.