By: Sylvanus M Blake- Assistant PRO, ACC
There is an invisible shield that protects public officers from false and vexatious corruption allegations levied by some members of society for personal and other reasons and there is also a sword in the hands of the ACC to hold public officers to account when they fail to comply with the legal requirement to declare their income, assets and liabilities. These dual mechanics obtain in Sierra Leone’s Asset Disclosure and Management systems.
In this piece, I shall discuss what the Assets Declaration process is all about and its possible significance to the fight against corruption.
Most countries across the world, expect their top leaders to publish information about their assets. When they fail, or if the figures do not seem to add up as it was the case in both Argentina and Nigeria, this can precipitate both public unrest and political instability. In Nigeria for instance, the Civil Society demanded the former President, His Excellency, Goodluck Jonathan to declare his assets. In Argentina, the extraordinary 1150 per cent increase in the personal wealth of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner since 2003 caused widespread reactions and protests among the citizenry. Although she had declared her assets, it was not clear where the increase came from. (Credit, Transparency International (TI) 11th January 2013, “Holding Politicians to Account: Asset Declarations”)
Politicians, leaders and civil servants hold substantial authority over the allocation of resources in their countries and the citizens who elect them, and who in effect pay their salaries through their tax contributions, would want them to account to them. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which has been ratified by 166 countries, requires a legal framework for Assets Declaration of Government officials. Researches have shown that an Assets Declaration regime that is open to public scrutiny provides the apt opportunity for citizens to ensure leaders do not abuse their powers for personal gains, (TI’s definition of corruption). Though there are no international standards mandating how asset declarations are made and monitored, there are some core principles that should form the foundation of any of such legal framework.
Asset Declaration exercise is the public officer’s (declarant’s) balance sheet that contain all assets/valuables and financial portfolios, liabilities like debts and mortgages, all sources of income from directorships, investments and consulting contracts. It should also include inheritances, gifts and sponsorship deals and any potential conflicts of interest such as unpaid employment contracts and participation in non-governmental income generation activities. It should also include, in the Sierra Leonean context; income, assets and liabilities owed by the declarant solely or jointly, his/her spouse(s) and children/wards below 18 years.
Simona Habič, Director of the League of Transparency International Integrity-Slovenia, (Transparency International’s Chapter in Slovenia), remarked in 2011 that; “Assets Disclosure is an important tool to hold politicians accountable. We detected deficiencies in the law and the limited powers that the Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC) has to investigate these issues and have called for changes in the legislation.”
In a Working Paper by the TI on the theme “Asset Declarations: An Effective Tool to Fight Corruption” published in January 2014, stated that, public sector officials with power are those who have been vested with the authority to decide contracts, allocate budgets and oversee a variety of decisions that involve taxpayers money. The publication furthered that Transparency, Accountability and Integrity are essential in the execution of their authority. They must demonstrate these in the ways they fulfill their tasks that they are acting for the public good and not for personal gain.
To ensure probity and integrity in public life, assets declarations are intended to provide a clear pathway for public officials to report their assets, interests, income and liabilities. It plays an important role in shining a light on a public official’s wealth. It can further detect abuse of power and its transformation into unexplained wealth, and can therefore be a tool for uncovering bribery and other forms of corruption such as nepotism, conflicts of interest and undue advantage.
The Assets Declaration regime in Sierra Leone, as contained in Part VIII (Integrity in Public Life), Section 119 of the 2008 Anti-Corruption Act as amended in 2019 requires all Public Officers in Grade 7 and above or its equivalence, political appointees, persons elected into offices, those in control of pecuniary resources and those with decision making responsibilities in public offices to disclose their assets (mandatory). They should do so upon appointment into office, (within three months), when they leave office (within three months) and every two years. This new regime, informed by the 2019 amendment of Sections 119 and 122 of the 2008 Act, has made the assets declaration process in Sierra Leone more precise, smart and easy to manage by the ACC.
An additional triumph to the ongoing reforms is the now exclusive online mandatory asset declaration process that has been sanctioned by the Commission for 2022 and going forward.
This user friendly and highly securitized asset disclosure and management system can be completed within one hour after completing your registration as a declarant on the ACC website at www.anticorruption.gov.sl. A link which will take all declarants into their asset declaration forms will be auto sent to your email, which will provide your user account and password, unique to you and will be used every two years to complete the asset declaration form. Upon completion of the process, a receipt will be sent to you (Auto), confirming your submission.
This electronic asset disclosure and management system will further help to make the security, management and processing of the forms swifter and smarter. The once cumbersome, laborious, cost intensive and time consuming paper-based asset declaration process is now history. The very long queues at ACC offices, on the doors of Justices of the Peace (JPs) and Commissioners of Oath, with their attendant challenges have vanished.
Asset declaration in Sierra Leone has now gone 100% online and it is working. The deadline for this year (2022) asset declaration is the 31st March for all in the category.
In the last two Asset Declaration exercises, there were colossal increases in the compliance rate among public officers. In 2019, a total of 17,212 completed asset declaration forms were received by the Commission. In 2020, when the bi-annual declaration process commenced, there was an incremental upsurge from 17,212 forms to a record number of 35,000 forms received by the ACC, indicating an over 100% increase in the compliance rate. This monumental increase in the compliance rate of public officers towards assets declaration process, is directly linked with the reforms and engineering of the Asset Declaration regime as provided for in the 2019 Amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, which ushered in a robust and effective mechanisms for sanctioning defaulting public officers.
When public officers comply with the requirement of declaring their Assets as provided by law, they do so at their advantage.
Accurately completed Asset Declaration forms are very useful during investigations. It can vindicate or implicate persons being investigated by the Commission for allegations of corruption that have to do with offences like; Possession of Unexplained Wealth, Corrupt Acquisition of Wealth, and several others.