By Connielove Mawutornyo Dzodzegbe
Asset declaration law, to the average Ghanaian, is an Act designed to “protect the public purse” from public office holders since it mandates that these officers make known their asset.
Assets to be declared include houses, buildings, land, farms, concessions, trust or family property in respect of which the officer has beneficial interest. Others include vehicles, plants, machinery, fishing boats, trawlers, business interests, securities and bank balances, bonds and treasury bills, jewelry of value of five million cedis and above.
After any public officer undergoes this process, it is assumed they will not be able to misuse the public coffers; but is that really the case?
If so, why do some public officials live luxuriously after assuming public offices and why do monies lost to corruption continue to increase each year ?
What is Asset Declaration Law?
Article286 (1) of the 1192 Constitution states that, a person who holds a public office shall submit to the Auditor-General a written declaration of all property owned by, or liabilities owned by him whether directly or indirectly.
Act, 1998, Act 550 states that the President of the Republic; Vice-President of the Republic; Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and a member of Parliament; Minister of State or Deputy Minister; Chief Justice, Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature and Chairman of a Regional Tribunal are supposed to declare their assets.
The others are the Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice and his deputies and all judicial officers; Ambassador or High Commissioner; Secretary to the Cabinet; Head of Ministry or government department or equivalent office in the Civil Service.
The rest are chairman, managing director, general manger, and departmental heads of a public corporation or company in which the state has controlling interest and such officers in the public service and any other public institution as Parliament may prescribe.
The process requires that these public office holders are to declare their assets within three months after coming into office, (b) at the end of every four years and (c)at the end of his term in office, most of which they fail to do.
The form is filled with all relevant documents which proves ownership and then submitted after it is sealed to the Auditor General who keeps it safe until it is requested to be used in court.
The law does not make provision for the Auditor General to open and verify if the asset declared are indeed theirs.
According to Investopedia, an auditor is a person authorized to review and verify the accuracy of financial records and ensure that companies comply with tax laws. The dictionary clearly states what an auditor is. Oxford languages also describes an auditorasa person who conducts audits.
The law seems to have belittled the role of the Auditor General and for that matter allows him to be a custodian.
It is mind-boggling why the head of the service with the mission to promote good governance in the areas of transparency, accountability, and probity in the public financial management system of Ghana by auditing to recognized international auditing standards, the management of public resources and reporting to Parliament, be tasked with such “menial job.”
What is the purpose of declaring an asset the public cannot know about; yet these people are paid from public coffers? This law clearly favours “political figures” as evidenced in the case of Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, popularly known Sir John who willed some sessions of Achimota forest to his family members.
Had he declared his asset and the law allowed to be verified by the Auditor General, the issues arising from his will would have been long avoided.
Currently, less than 20 public officials have fully complied with the law reports by the Fourth Estate . This raises the question of what they are hiding?
Sources say that the Auditor-General opens these envelopes to verify if the form has been filled properly in the presence of witnesses.
A little survey conducted on the streets of Accra proved that few Ghanaians knew about the law but as to whether it was relevant, they were quite unsure of.
A Legal practitioner and Anti-corruption Activist, Samson Lardy Anyenini, said the asset declaration regime has been an age-old problem which many have continued to raise concerns on.
How the outfit mandated to receive the declared asset is not empowered to verify.
The present Article on the regime Act 550, he states, makes it easy to conceal property that is not legitimately acquired since this Act does not provide a session for the public officers to declare their relatives.
The legal practitioner argues that one could easily acquire property in relatives’ name, hence, it was important the law is extended to in the least include the names of the immediate family.
He said Act 286 tasked the public with the responsibility of reporting to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ),if they think the asset declared by the public office holder was acquired through illegitimate means. However, there is no clause which mandates the publication of the declared asset.
This makes it impossible to make any reports, since the public does not know what has been declared.
“The terrible interpretation has rendered the law needless in its present state, since the public cannot know what has been declared. The law is not only unhelpful but needless,” he bemoaned.
According to the Anti-corruption campaigner, the law would be more ineffective if the Conduct of Public Officer Bill which had been in Parliament for more than 10 years, was passed with a clear provision for verification and publication and a compulsion that if a public officer had not declared his asset and liability, cannot assume office.
Some members of the public hold that, if a document is presented to the Auditor General and it is not opened, what is the essence of declaring the asset?
Others raised questions on how they can contest an asset they have not seen. “Assuming I want to take a public officer to court for wrongfully declaring their asset; how do I win a case I do not have evidence on?”
The Way Forward
If Ghana plans to scale down the amount of money lost to corruption annually, the Asset Declaration Law should be one of the law Parliament must consider to amend.
The amendment must include punitive measures for non-compliance, inclusion of immediate relatives, publishing and verification of the asset.
The law should further, make the Asset compulsory just as the Oath Taking Ceremony; that is to say: ‘No Declared Asset, No Chance to assume office.’
This will undoubtedly push Ghana forward by helping redirect monies previously lost to corruption into profitable ventures.