Many countries struggling with corruption increasingly point to asset declarations by public officials as the tool to combat the menace. Ghana has recently joined the fray – again – after many administrations before the current one merely paid lip service to it.
Financial disclosure of public servants (asset declaration) is a disclosure of financial information by public servants. It is a requirement of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
For example, ownership of land, vehicles, yachts, boats must be declared before public officials assume office. For shares, bonds, debentures and other financial instruments, the nominated officials is required to provide account number and name of the entity/institution the asset is held with.
Asset declaration has become a multipurpose tool aimed at preventing conflicts of interest, detecting unjustified assets and building broader integrity of public service. Asset declarations, therefore, combines prevention and enforcement purposes.
But would it work in Ghana? There are five reasons why declaration of assets would do little to combat corruption in Ghana.
Reason Number Five
Ghana’s laws, according to Professor Kwaku Azar, have become mere suggestions because those charged with enforcing them have woefully failed to do so. The nation is familiar with virtual open-and-shut cases of double salary, for example, where the culprits, as MPs (Legislature) and Ministers (Executive), opened separate bank accounts and knowingly collected salaries in their dual capacities contrary to the law.
To this day, no prosecution has been brought against any of them. How does that provide any confidence that a person who previously lived like a peasant and became wealthy overnight after assuming pubic office would be prosecuted?
Reason Number Four
If that “peasant” walked into a government position and became wealthy overnight, unless an actual crime can be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, the new-found wealth alone may not be adequate in proving his or her guilt.
If a man did not have GHC100 in his possession but all of a sudden can produce GhC100, if no money was lost or reported stolen, can he be charged with theft? Authorities can investigate all they want, but unless there has been money missing or stolen, having the GHC100 in his possession alone does not constitute a crime.
This is against the backdrop that it is the state’s responsibility to prove the accused’s guilt as opposed to the responsibility of the accused to prove his innocence.
Reason Number Three
Corruption is bad and we all abhor it. But at least the public official who embezzled, or received kickbacks, usually opens a business with the proceeds. A fuel station here, a bakery there at least fuels the economy and provides jobs even if the capital was ill-gotten.
With Asset Declaration, the corrupt official would simply keep the cash under his or her bed and be “chopping it small small” in order not to attract attention. In this scenario, the corruption occurred, but the nation would be denied the extra job or two for our youth and the economic activity.
Reason Number Two
Most parents do whatever they do to be able to leave wealth for their children and other close relatives who would not be required to declare their assets just because their family member is getting a government appointment.
Would-be corrupt officials would find creative ways to build assets in the names of children, relatives, and other close friends to evade direct connection to them. Nicely, done, it would be difficult to tie any such assets to the corrupt official.
Reason Number One
The worst ramification of all that can potentially emanate from the declaration of assets is capital flight. They would simply change their loot into foreign currency and dump them in offshore accounts many of which do not leave footprints.
What is worse about this potential is that not only would it deny Ghanaian youth the possibility of job creation, it would also put immense pressure on the already struggling cedi to depreciate worse than it is already undergoing.
The most effective way to fight corruption is to put teeth in existing laws and to hold accountable those charged with the responsibility of enforcing them. Asset declaration would do little to solve the corruption canker if our system remains replete with pleadings and pardons.
Jermaine Nkrumah for DNT News