Prez, others urged to declare assets (Front page)

THE Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), an anti-corruption organisation, has called on President John Dramani Mahama to move beyond filing his tax returns and paying tax to declare his assets.

Additionally, it said the President should ensure that ministers of state and other public office holders required by the law to declare their assets did so.

According to the GII, while the current constitutional provision (Article 286) was not a “good enough corruption fighting tool”, it was important for the President to lead by example and declare his assets.

“It is the civic responsibility of all citizens, including the President, to file their tax returns, but it is worrying that almost four months after assuming office, the President is yet to declare his assets,” it said.

Article 286 (1) of the Constitution states that public office holders, including the President, the Vice-President, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, as well ministers and deputy ministers of state, ambassadors, the Chief Justice and managers of public institutions in which the state have interest, shall submit to the Auditor-General written declarations of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by them, whether directly or indirectly.

The law, however, forbids public disclosure of the assets declared by the public officers concerned unless demanded as evidence by a court of competent jurisdiction, a commission of inquiry appointed under Article 278 or before an investigator appointed by the Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice.

 In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra yesterday, the Executive Secretary of the GII, Mr Vitus Azeem, said in its present state, the provision “does not make the law an effective tool to fight corruption”.

According to him, the ideal situation should be that the Auditor-General could open the envelope and verify if the assets mentioned did exist or “if it was just a blank sheet that has been put into an envelope”.

He said asset declaration was an anti-corruption tool that sought to gauge the economic status of public office holders before they took office and after they had left office to ensure accountability.

Across the world, there are different forms of asset declaration — those in which office holders make full public disclosure of their assets, those in which assets disclosed by public office holders are verified and those in which the assets declared are kept away from public scrutiny.

 President Barack Obama, for instance, reported an income of $5.5 million (£3.8 million) in 2009 on his tax returns, most of it from his books, “Dreams from My Father” and “Audacity of Hope”.

According to White House financial disclosure forms, the Obamas declared assets of $7.7 million, not including the family home in Chicago. But they did include the family dog, Bo, which is valued at $1,600, and filed under "gifts, reimbursements and travel expenses”.

In Nigeria, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) verifies the personal assets of governors of states of the federation and serving ministers. 

Tanzania has a similar asset declaration regime where a committee verifies all assets declared by public officers.

A survey of 148 countries eligible to receive World Bank support conducted in 2006 found that in Africa, 28 countries require disclosure of income and assets by public officials. Of these 28 countries, 23 require officials to declare assets to an anti-corruption body or other government entity, while only five (Cape Verde, the Republic of Central Africa, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe and South Africa) request publication of the declarations.

 Twenty of the African World Bank client countries do not require income and asset disclosure by public officials.

According to anti-corruption experts, an effective income and assets declaration regime can help prevent abuse of power, reduce corruption and increase public accountability, public trust in institutions and government legitimacy.

Research findings indicate that countries where wealth disclosure is combined with content verification and public access to declarations is significantly associated with lower perceived levels of corruption.

The Transparency International Global Corruption Report 2006 showed that perceived levels of corruption were lower in countries whose declaration laws permitted prosecution of the offending officials.

The findings also indicated that countries that gave public access to officials’ asset declaration had significantly lower perceived levels of corruption than countries without that policy.

To ensure that Ghana’s asset declaration was effective, Mr Azeem called on Parliament to develop a regulation to back the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act of 1998 (Act 550).

He accused Parliament of sitting on the act because sections of the law did not favour public office holders.
Writer’s email: seth.bokpe@graphic.com.gh

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