Asset declaration in Ghana: Public deception or reality? (May 3, 2016)


A Facebook post made by a good friend turned social media historian, Kwaku Darko Ankrah, caught my attention recently. 

Kweku posted the photograph of a Ghanaian-born American citizen, Mr Kwesi Awenate Cobbina, who works at the Executive Office of the President (EOP) as the Special Assistant to the President of the United States and Policy Adviser to the Office of the Chief of Staff at the White House Office.

Then came the shocker, Mr Cobbina’s salary was stated as US$96,910.  He did not end it there. 

Another Ghanaian-American, Solomon D. Lartey, works as a Record Management Analyst at the White House and receives a salary of US$63,199 per annum.
http://www.graphic.com.gh/media/k2/items/cache/321a574db73cb7defcac0db0adacc262_XL.jpg

It is not their salaries that shocked me but rather the fact that their salaries were published. As a citizen of a country in which asking for the assets of public officials to be published sounds like using a torchlight to see through a brick wall, I was stunned.

Our breed of democracy 
Kweku asked questions that got me thinking about why corruption thrives in Ghana and the breed of democracy we profess to be practising.

I quote him: “Now my question is how come we in Africa, particularly in Ghana, also beat our chest that we practise democracy but we are so scared of ensuring transparency by ensuring that information about public officials and other office holders are made available to the citizenry?

“How come I sit here in Ghana, and with just a tap on my laptop, I know about Cobbina and Lartey’s salaries in the United States, but I cannot find my friend Stan Xoese Dogbe’s salary at a Ghana government portal?

“How come I cannot find any public office holder: Members of Parliament, minister and chief directors’ salary? Do we intentionally keep these salaries out of the inquisitive public eyes just to ensure endemic corruption by the public office holders in perpetuity?” he asked.

Ghana has made a lot of progress ever since it returned to the path of multi-party democracy - freedom of speech, a free media, promotion of human right(s) and functional institutions, among other milestones. This achievement notwithstanding, corruption is a topic for daily discussion. In the fight against corruption, one issue that never seems to go away after new governments take office over the last 22 years is asset declaration.

Ever since Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1993, asset declaration has always been a key issue that features prominently in our national discourse after Parliament puts its stamp on the President’s nominees for various offices.

In a paper titled, “Enhancing the credibility of the public office holders asset declaration regime”, Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, the Executive Director of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), captured in an interesting way, the public’s outcry against members of the Rawlings administration in the 1990s when they declared assets:

“Moving the clock forward to the early 1990s when Ghana returned to democratic rule and the media had recovered its voice. The nation was shocked by media reports of ridiculous asset declarations by leading figures in the PNDC regime. The asset declarations made by some long-serving public officials featured items such as broken down gramophone players and 1971 Ford Capri cars.”

The Ghanaian Chronicle, for instance, reported on October 26, 1992 that the bank balances declared by some senior members of the PNDC were less than one month’s pension of a retired civil servant.

Generally, asset declaration is also meant to prevent illicit enrichment of public office holders, which as indicated by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), involves the significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income.

Prof. Gyimah-Boadi argued that a credible asset declaration regime is also good for public officials as it helps to protect the private assets of public officials from wrongful and extra-legal confiscation and also to protect public officials from undue suspicion, baseless allegations of wrongdoing and all manner of denigration.

Apart from the issue of prevention of conflict of interest and the need to protect the public purse from being looted by public officials, in my opinion, the concern about asset declaration is about ensuring public accountability and transparency.

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. Ghana falls in this latter category. 

Asset declaration elsewhere

President Barack Obama, for instance, reported an income of $5.5 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 Obama family 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. Admittedly, in Nigeria, this form of asset declaration has not helped in fighting graft but it has been useful in other countries. 

In Ghana, two main laws regulate asset declaration — Article 286 (1) of the 1992 Constitution and Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550).

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 has interest, shall submit to the Auditor-General written declarations of all property or assets owned or liabilities owed by them, whether directly or indirectly.

The Constitution, 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 (CHRAJ).

Act 550, on the other hand, provides the framework and guidelines for asset declaration in Ghana as a tool to combat corruption among public office holders.

Who should declare assets?

Globally, there are divergent categories of public officials covered within the declaration system, what categories of public sector employees are considered public officials, and whether any individuals other than public officials should be covered by these laws and even the types of assets and liabilities that should be covered.

In Ghana, Act 550 defines public office to include: “An office the emoluments attached to which are paid directly from the Consolidated Fund or directly out of moneys provided by Parliament and an office in a public corporation established entirely out of public funds or moneys provided by Parliament; except that for the purposes of declaration of assets under this Act it does not include the Armed Forces.”

Sanctions

In other jurisdictions, there are clearly spelt out punitive measures like imprisonment for failure to comply with the requirements of the asset(s) declaration law. In Turkey, for instance, those who do not declare their properties within the time limit given regarding the investigation are liable to be sentenced to a penalty or imprisonment for a term.

In the case of Ghana, the sanction is arguably very lenient. Clearly, this is a kick in the groin of the principle of transparency and accountability. For example, if a person is found to have breached the asset declaration and escapes a jail term, all it would take to bring that person back into public office is 10 years of absence from holding public office. 

Interestingly, Ghanaian politicians are only interested in asset declaration laws while they are in opposition. 

A Facebook post made by a good friend turned social media historian, Kwaku Darko Ankrah, caught my attention recently.
Kweku posted the photograph of a Ghanaian-born American citizen, Mr Kwesi Awenate Cobbina, who works at the Executive Office of the President (EOP) as the Special Assistant to the President of the United States and Policy Adviser to the Office of the Chief of Staff at the White House Office.
Then came the shocker, Mr Cobbina’s salary was stated as US$96,910.  He did not end it there. Another Ghanaian-American, Solomon D. Lartey, works as a Record Management Analyst at the White House and receives a salary of US$63,199 per annum.
It is not their salaries that shocked me but rather the fact that their salaries were published. As a citizen of a country in which asking for the assets of public officials to be published sounds like using a torchlight to see through a brick wall, I was stunned.
Our breed of democracy 
Kweku asked questions that got me thinking about why corruption thrives in Ghana and the breed of democracy we profess to be practising.
I quote him: “Now my question is how come we in Africa, particularly in Ghana, also beat our chest that we practise democracy but we are so scared of ensuring transparency by ensuring that information about public officials and other office holders are made available to the citizenry?
“How come I sit here in Ghana, and with just a tap on my laptop, I know about Cobbina and Lartey’s salaries in the United States, but I cannot find my friend Stan Xoese Dogbe’s salary at a Ghana government portal?
“How come I cannot find any public office holder: Members of Parliament, minister and chief directors’ salary? Do we intentionally keep these salaries out of the inquisitive public eyes just to ensure endemic corruption by the public office holders in perpetuity?” he asked.
Ghana has made a lot of progress ever since it returned to the path of multi-party democracy - freedom of speech, a free media, promotion of human right(s) and functional institutions, among other milestones. This achievement notwithstanding, corruption is a topic for daily discussion. In the fight against corruption, one issue that never seems to go away after new governments take office over the last 22 years is asset declaration.
Ever since Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1993, asset declaration has always been a key issue that features prominently in our national discourse after Parliament puts its stamp on the President’s nominees for various offices.
In a paper titled, “Enhancing the credibility of the public office holders asset declaration regime”, Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, the Executive Director of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), captured in an interesting way, the public’s outcry against members of the Rawlings administration in the 1990s when they declared assets:
“Moving the clock forward to the early 1990s when Ghana returned to democratic rule and the media had recovered its voice. The nation was shocked by media reports of ridiculous asset declarations by leading figures in the PNDC regime. The asset declarations made by some long-serving public officials featured items such as broken down gramophone players and 1971 Ford Capri cars.”
The Ghanaian Chronicle, for instance, reported on October 26, 1992 that the bank balances declared by some senior members of the PNDC were less than one month’s pension of a retired civil servant.
Generally, asset declaration is also meant to prevent illicit enrichment of public office holders, which as indicated by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), involves the significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income.
Prof. Gyimah-Boadi argued that a credible asset declaration regime is also good for public officials as it helps to protect the private assets of public officials from wrongful and extra-legal confiscation and also to protect public officials from undue suspicion, baseless allegations of wrongdoing and all manner of denigration.
Apart from the issue of prevention of conflict of interest and the need to protect the public purse from being looted by public officials, in my opinion, the concern about asset declaration is about ensuring public accountability and transparency.
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. Ghana falls in this latter category.
Asset declaration elsewhere
President Barack Obama, for instance, reported an income of $5.5 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 Obama family 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. Admittedly, in Nigeria, this form of asset declaration has not helped in fighting graft but it has been useful in other countries.
In Ghana, two main laws regulate asset declaration — Article 286 (1) of the 1992 Constitution and Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550).
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 has interest, shall submit to the Auditor-General written declarations of all property or assets owned or liabilities owed by them, whether directly or indirectly.
The Constitution, 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 (CHRAJ).
Act 550, on the other hand, provides the framework and guidelines for asset declaration in Ghana as a tool to combat corruption among public office holders.
Who should declare assets?
Globally, there are divergent categories of public officials covered within the declaration system, what categories of public sector employees are considered public officials, and whether any individuals other than public officials should be covered by these laws and even the types of assets and liabilities that should be covered.
In Ghana, Act 550 defines public office to include: “An office the emoluments attached to which are paid directly from the Consolidated Fund or directly out of moneys provided by Parliament and an office in a public corporation established entirely out of public funds or moneys provided by Parliament; except that for the purposes of declaration of assets under this Act it does not include the Armed Forces.”
Sanctions
In other jurisdictions, there are clearly spelt out punitive measures like imprisonment for failure to comply with the requirements of the asset(s) declaration law. In Turkey, for instance, those who do not declare their properties within the time limit given regarding the investigation are liable to be sentenced to a penalty or imprisonment for a term.
In the case of Ghana, the sanction is arguably very lenient. Clearly, this is a kick in the groin of the principle of transparency and accountability. For example, if a person is found to have breached the asset declaration and escapes a jail term, all it would take to bring that person back into public office is 10 years of absence from holding public office.
Interestingly, Ghanaian politicians are only interested in asset declaration laws while they are in opposition.
- See more at: http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/63216-asset-declaration-in-ghana-public-deception-or-reality.html#sthash.2pr6isyv.dpuf

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