By: Utche Okwuosah
Today, in retrospect, it may seem that the creation of the Asset Declaration law, which was supposed to monitor wealth variations of individual politicians and public office holders, was after all a perfunctory gesture to oblige the international community’s expectation because, the law turns out to be so abundantly flawed that it is ineffectual. A forum convened recently by the Institute of Economic Affairs’ forum agreed that Ghana’s Assets declaration regime is “a joke” as informed by a presentation by Prof. Edward Dua Agyeman.
When President Nana Akufo-Addo took office in January this year, he made his position clear on corruption and how he was going to deal with it. His strong posturing may be attributed to the fact that he tied his overall success to the significant reduction in the instance of corruption, if not its total elimination.
“I shall protect the public purse, by insisting on value for money in all transactions,” the newly sworn in President pledged. “Public service is just that, service, and not an avenue for making money,” he further clarified as if to emphatically define the difference between service and opportunism as may be even countenanced in the private sector. “Money is to be made in the private sector, not the public and measures will be put in place to ensure this,” he said.
True to his words, the president has set himself putting those measures in place.
Implementation of measures
For instance, just about six months in power, President Akufo-Addo got the ball rolling to have the office of the Special Prosecutor set up. The nation is currently waiting on the Parliament to pass the draft bill which is already before it. According to the Attorney-General, Gloria Akuffo, the office of the Special will have “full authority” to start investigations and finish prosecution of officials found to have been corrupt.
Following up to that, President Akufo–Addo expedited the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which was initiated since 2007 and, after some huddles, in 2016 it was approved by Cabinet. Consequently, the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921) came into effect to regulate financial management in the public sector.
Thus, established under the Public Financial Management Act, 2016, (Act 921), the TSA, which was launched in August this year, is a unified structure of government bank accounts meant to provide government with a consolidated, or wholesome, view of its cash resources. This means that, the Controller and Accountant-General, as authorised by the Minister for Finance, transfers all government institutions’ bank accounts to the Central Bank. This way, government is able to ensure efficient treasury management and monitoring.
No doubt, more measures are still to be expected from the Nana Akufo-Addo’s government. However, the recent roundtable discussion organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs seem to have thrown up a very important measure that the government direly needs but have to re-equip and energise in order to effectively douse all currently burning urge in politicians and public office holders to enrich themselves from the commonwealth as usual. The Assets Declaration instrument!
Ghana’s Asset Declaration Regime
According to Prof. Edward Dua Agyeman (former Auditor-General of Ghana, and Senior Adjunct Fellow, IEA) the Asset Declaration instrument is primarily created as a measure to monitor wealth variations of individual politicians and public office holders, as well as increase transparency but, as it currently exists, it is not potent enough as a tool to combat corruption.
That was a part of the conclusion the former Auditor-General reached in his paper delivered on Tuesday, 15th August, 2017 at the IEA forum on the theme: “Fighting corruption in the public sector of Ghana: The role of Assets Declaration.”
“In Ghana corruption has been with us since the pre-colonial days and has even become endemic throughout the various governments since independence. Several strategies have been implemented to curb the scourge of corruption in Ghana. Assets declaration regime has been found as an effective tool for combating corruption in the public sector,” Prof. Agyeman said.
Indeed, Assets declaration regime has proved to be one of the most effective compliance mechanisms adopted by nations to prevent or cure the incidence of conflict of interest among public office holders, and has been generally utilised since the 1970s, the former Auditor-General of Ghana, recounted.
It acquired international renewed focus with the passage of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2003. So, it is generally recognised universally as one of the effective measures in checking corruption.
The purpose of Assets Declaration, as enumerated by Prof Agyeman, are to increase transparency and the trust of citizens in public administration; to help heads of public institutions prevent conflicts of interest among their employees and to resolve such situations when they arise, and to monitor wealth variations of individual politicians and public office holders.
How does Assets Declaration work?
Assets Declaration in Ghana takes the following processes:
Step 1: Collection of a declaration of Assets and Liability Form
Step 2: Submission of the Completed Form
Step 3: Receipt of the Form
Step 4: Storage/Archiving of the Form
Because the issue of Assets Declaration is of a universal currency, perhaps, a perspective from a study jointly implemented by the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ACN) and the OECD-EU SIGMA Programme would serve to enhance Prof Agyeman’s earlier elucidation.
According to the Programme’s document, the main aims of asset declarations may include the following:
- To increase transparency and the trust of citizens in public administration, by disclosing information about assets of politicians and civil servants that shows they have nothing to hide;
- To help heads of public institutions prevent conflicts of interest among their employees and to resolve such situations when they arise, in order to promote integrity within their institutions;
- To monitor wealth variations of individual politicians and civil servants, in order to dissuade them from misconduct and protect them from false accusations, and to help clarify the full scope of illicit enrichment or other illegal activity by providing additional evidence. Because of its essential universal nature, it reflects Prof Agyeman’s except that it is more broadly explanatory in parts.
So, if these are the clear aims of Assets Declaration, with its seeming effective process of recording and monitoring wealth variations of individual politicians and civil servants, why has it not produced culprits in our environment where politicians and civil servants have been known to have left office far more richer than before they went in to serve? As a matter of fact, everyday “hear-say” tells of how their riches begin to accumulate from the moment they assume office, in the case of politicians.
Weaknesses of the Ghana Assets Declaration Regime
Prof Agyeman listed what he has observed are the flaws of Ghana’s Assets Declaration Regime as: Non verification of the form; Lack of public disclosure/accessibility; Deficiency in frequency of filing and process; Insufficient coverage; Insufficient content of declaration; Inexplicit and imprecise sanctions for breach; Lack of political will and commitment.
The former Auditor-General spoke of declarations sent in sealed envelopes that nobody is supposed to open, which means that verification of the individual’s declaration is out of the question. This alone makes a mockery of the law and its process. Which was why, in his remark, the current Auditor-General, Daniel Domelevo, felt no qualms referring to the entire idea, in its current state, as “a joke.” And to cap it all in its inefficiency, there is no public disclosure/accessibility; consequently, a prospective public looter just goes through the routine, and when he is through helping himself in the course of his supposed service to the nation, he goes home counting his haul and being hailed as a good man because, after all, the law has had nothing against him.
The Prof also went on to speak on the history and cultural barriers to Assets Declaration Regime but, all of that actually pale against the background of the fundamental flaw in the execution of the law.
Reasonably, he concluded that Assets declaration regime as it currently exists in Ghana is unsatisfactory and not potent enough as a tool to combat corruption.
According to him, the current laws do not allow the Auditor-General to open the sealed envelope, nor do the laws allow public access to information on compliance. There is no application of sanctions for non-submission, late submission and false declarations; The government and parliament have not shown sufficient political will and commitment to promote the assets declaration regime; and the various Acts of Parliament, the regulations and institutional arrangements have not been effective. These were some of Prof. Agyeman’s findings.
Summary of The Findings
The current Assets Declaration Regime in Ghana is not an effective anti-corruption tool for combating corruption in Ghana; and, the general consensus is that the 1992 Constitution and Act 550 of 1998 need to be reviewed and amended to make the Assets Declaration Regime in Ghana more potent to combat public sector corruption.
His policy recommendations included the following:
- The Government and Parliament should demonstrate political will and commitment, and amend Chapter 24 of the 1992 Constitution and Act 550.
- As a transitional provision, any amendment to the existing law should include training workshops for public officials.
- Coverage of the Assets Declaration Regime should extend to all public officials who exercise discretion over public funds and or take legislative decisions.
- Coverage should include all individuals closely connected with the public officials such as spouses and dependent children.
- Explicit and severe sanctions must be applied to those who fail to comply with the assets declaration law
- The law should give the Auditor-General the mandate to verify the accuracy of information in the declaration and gazette the contents of the declaration within 30 days of receiving the declaration.
Nine months into the tenure of his administration, President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has been acknowledged as a leader who is making sincere efforts to put his efforts where his mouth is, particularly in the area of minimising the incessant quamless inclination of politicians and civil servants to looting the nation. Assets Declarations, potent in other climes where it is enforced, was acknowledged at the IEA forum as a potential efficient tool that could adequately make up the mix required by the present administration in achieving the type of corruption minimised environment they aspire towards for real and sustained development.
The forum which was well attended was chaired by Justice Emile Short, former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).