By: Alhaji A.K. Bangura, Senior Communications Officer, ACC
Assets declaration is a crucial tool in the fight against corruption and the promotion of good governance. It helps build trust, prevents abuse of power, and contributes to a fair and accountable public administration. According to a survey conducted by the World Bank, over 160 countries have introduced compulsory Assets Disclosure with different countries having varying systems to enforce and verify information with regards the same.
Assets declaration systems have increasingly become a multipurpose tool aimed at preventing conflicts of interest, detecting unjustified assets and building broader integrity of public service. It brings a combination of both prevention and enforcement purpose. Advanced systems are replacing traditional ones, which often treat disclosure of assets and interests separately and pursued varying objectives. Sierra Leone, like many other countries, has introduced or bolstered mechanisms to improve declaration and enhance enforcement.
Pursuant to Section 119 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019, “every public offer shall, within three months of becoming a public officer, deposit with the Commission a declaration of his income, assets and liabilities and thereafter in every two years that he is public officer, but not later than 31st March of that second year, deposit further declaration of his income, assets and liabilities and also while leaving office.”
This makes it incumbent on all public officers from Grade 7 upwards and those with fiduciary responsibilities regardless the Grade, to declare their assets, income and liabilities on entry, bi-annually and on exit.
This accountability mechanism to prevent corruption has over the years seen huge progress with remarkable developments made not only in legal reforms. The move from paper declaration system to online/digital/electronic declaration is one remarkable development.
The outdated paper-based system of declaration was the only means in use due to variety of reasons ranging from limited technological infrastructure, lower levels of digital literacy, or the need for immediate implementation while working towards a more robust digital solution.
It ordinarily posed a number of challenges such as manual data entry errors, slower processing time, difficulty in tracking and analyzing data, potential for document loss or tampering, and increased administrative burden. Transitioning to a digital system was intentioned to address some of these challenges, thereby to maximize efficiency, accuracy, and data management.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) commenced the Online Assets Disclosure in 2017. It was expected that it would have a huge benefit to the Commission and the public officials as it would alleviate their sufferings of queuing all day long to submit their forms while leaving their busy schedule behind. It was also intended to help the Commission move from the paper-based system of printing and archiving to an electronic version of maintaining a proper backup system. Under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala Esq., most of these goals have been achieved in the last three years after the electronic system was reintroduced after a slow start. This has tremendously improved the compliance rate because Declarants, especially those in foreign missions, will access and submit the Form with ease and in a secured manner.
The digital online declaration system offers several benefits compared to the traditional paper- based system. The efficiency of the digital system has streamlined the submission process, allowing users to declare their assets more quickly and easily. Automatic calculations and validations speed up the process and minimize manual errors.
It has also accelerated accountability in the public offices. Movement from the manual to digital system has minimized the need for physical paperwork, which can be cumbersome to store and manage.
Therefore, this process of transformation to digital declaration must be taken much more seriously for enhanced integrity and accountability in public life.