Stop hoping MPs won’t pass yet another joke of asset declaration law

Samson Ayenini21 Samson Lardy Anyenini

Sun, 20 Aug 2017 Source: Samson Lardy Anyenini

The Auditor-General is appalled at Ghana’s asset declaration law describing it as a ‘‘joke’’ but he is excited a new one will be effective at serving the desired purpose - fighting corruption among public office holders.

I am sure you have heard or/and read about his threat to expose all ministers who have not declared their assets some seven months after assuming office. It comes on the heels a group of civil society organisations meeting with the President this week and charging him to keep his election campaign promise to make his declared public.

Well, Daniel Domelevo seems to be unaware that MPs were supposed to pass the new law, the Conduct of Public Officers’ Act together with the Right to Information Act in 2015.

They did not, and argued among others that making public their assets will expose them to armed robbery. Jesus! Just don’t come yet. In June 2015, I presented a paper to leaders in the anti-corruption campaign front under the auspices of the Ghana Integrity Initiative and the anti-corruption coalition.

I share what I wrote about the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550) which requires one to submit a sealed envelope to the Auditor-General who has no right to open and check/verify the contents. Only CHRAJ may open it up when there is a controversy and upon lawful orders to do so.

This, without any equivocation, is the single most useless piece of legislation passed either by a lousy bundle of legislators or self-serving legislators seeking by law a right to conceal where they are envisaged by chapter 24 of the Constitution to disclose their assets before assuming a public office.

This sad development renders this law needless as the assets if declared are not ever known to members of the public who are expected by law to report of new acquisitions and which new undeclared assets may have been procured through acts of corruption.

I did recommend that assets declared must be VERIFIED and PUBLICIZED else there is no need for the declaration. I say again that this law, without any equivocation, represents the single most inconsistent piece of legislation in our statute books.

It ironically preserved a public officer’s right to CONCEAL where they are to DISCLOSE. The Act may have been done in accordance with Article 287 of the 1992 Constitution which invites any person who alleges that a public officer has contravened a provision of the Act to make a report/complaint; it nevertheless retrogressively still makes the assets declared and kept with the Auditor General confidential information which must be kept as such.

If there is no verification by the custodian (Auditor-General) and publication of such assets, for example, in the gazette how would members of the public get to know what is declared in order to complain if at all? The principles of transparency and accountability require nothing less than both verification and publication of the declared assets of public officers if the intended mischief the law seeks to cure is to be achieved.

A review of the regime under the Conduct of Public Officers’ Act without a mandatory requirement of verification and publication will, therefore, mark such backward progress in a democracy as such declarations were gazetted even under Ghana’s Provisional National Defence Council’s (PNDC) military regime.

The Constitution Review Commission summarized the collective will of Ghanaians in desiring as it found: “…though the Constitution attempts to curb the menace of corruption through the assets declaration regime, the absence of compulsion and the lack of transparency in the exercise defeats the very purpose of the regime.”

There must be sustained advocacy to scrap this regime for a compulsory and transparent one. The ongoing amendment process still needs critical advocacy and for all to police the process to avoid a reproduction of yet another self-serving worthless piece of legislation.

Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini