You are here: HomeNews2017 08 17Article 570539

General News of Thursday, 17 August 2017

Source: Graphic.com.gh

Assets Declaration Act is a big joke — Speakers at IEA forum

Speakers at a forum on fighting corruption in the public sector have described the content of the current Assets Declaration Act, 1998 (Act 550) as a joke, saying it is not tight and robust enough to fight corruption in the public service.

According to them, the act, in its current state, could best be described as non-existent, since it was plagued with numerous weaknesses that made the fight against corruption nothing but a mirage.

Making separate statements at a roundtable organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in Accra last Tuesday, the speakers called for a holistic national discourse involving all key stakeholders to initiate a process to address the weaknesses in the act.

Forum

The public forum, which was on the theme, "Fighting corruption in the public sector of Ghana: The role of asset declaration", drew participants from academia, politics, civil society organisations (CSOs), state agencies and the diplomatic community.

The speakers were a former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Mr Justice Emile Short; a former Auditor-General, Professor Edward Dua Agyeman, and the incumbent Auditor-General, Mr Daniel Domelevo, and they were all unanimous that the current assets declaration regime was not an efficient tool to fight corruption.

In attendance was the United States (US) Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Robert Jackson.

Weaknesses

Speaking on the theme, Prof. Dua Agyeman said one major weakness in the Asset Declaration Act that ought to be addressed was the lack of public disclosure of the declared assets of public officials.

"The current law does not even allow the Auditor-General who is the custodian of filled asset declaration forms to know the content of the forms. The law requires that the forms are sealed in an envelope and presented for storage, which means that until such a time that there is a legal process to open a specific envelope; one cannot even tell if the assets have been properly declared.

"What should be done is for the law to be amended so that the declared assets by public office holders can be published for the public to know and cross-check if there was any false declaration. Until we make these declared assets public, the whole process will continue to be a joke as it is now," he stressed.

Prof. Dua Agyeman added that the act was also deficient in terms of the frequency of declaration, stressing that the four-year period for declaration of assets was too long a period for efficiency and transparency to prevail.

He observed that the act did not sufficiently cover all assets of public office holders, noting that: "In the current law, spouses and children of public office holders who are above 18 years are not required to declare their assets, so these public officials can amass wealth and transfer it to their family members and go unnoticed."




Prof Edward Dua Agyeman - Former Auditor-General

No government commitment

Prof. Dua Agyeman further said the lack of commitment and political will by the three arms of government to address the flaws in the act was the bane of the fight against corruption among public office holders.

"The government seems to be comfortable with the law so it will not respond to calls to amend it. There is no budget for the Auditor-General to roll out an efficient asset declaration regime.

“Parliament has equally not helped matters so the balance sheet of asset declaration is such that the liabilities are more than the assets," he stated.

Innovation

While agreeing with Prof. Dua Agyeman that there was an urgent need to review the act to ensure a robust asset declaration regime, Mr Domelevo advocated an online technology to be deployed for public office holders to declare their assets.



"We are in 2017 but people are still issued with receipts dating as far back as 1969 when the asset declaration began.

"I took the act and went through it and realised that it is not asset declaration but rather asset concealment and I think the whole process is a complete joke. We have a system that all of us have to look at holistically rather than approaching it piecemeal," he said.

Diligence

For his part, Mr Justice Short noted that the earlier proactive measures were taken to comprehensively address the flaws in the current act, the better it would be for the fight against corruption among public office holders.

He said corruption in the public sector undermined efficiency and transparency and also stalled development, since valuable public resources were lost.

"The need for a comprehensive asset declaration regime is, therefore, a critical tool for fighting corruption and ensuring value for money," he said.

Other speakers called for strict enforcement of the law by the mandatory state agencies.

They called for legal procedures to be used to crack the whip on non-compliant public officials.



The Act

Section 3 of the Declaration of Assets and Disqualification Act, 1998 (Act 550) states, "It shall be the responsibility of the officers required to make the declaration under this Act to obtain the forms from the office of the Auditor-General."

The act mandates that the declaration shall be made by public office holders before they take office, at the end of every four years and at the end of their term of office.

According to Section 4 of the act, properties subject to declaration are lands, houses and buildings, farms, concessions, trust or family property in respect of which the officer has beneficial interest, vehicles, plant and machinery, fishing boats, trawlers and generating plants.

The others are business interests, securities and bank balances, bonds and treasury bills, jewellery of the value of GH¢5 million or above; objects of art of the value of GH¢5 million or above, life and other insurance policies and such other properties as are specified on the declaration form.