By Bernard Abass Kargbo – Public Education Officer - ACC
Another asset declaration year (2022) is here and it is incumbent on public officers to declare their assets as provided for by Section 119 (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as Amended in 2019). This requirement is mandatory for officers in Grade 7 and above, or with those of lower grades who have fiduciary responsibilities. The current Anti-Corruption Commission Chief, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. was able to convince law makers to make asset declaration bi-annual instead of the usual annual declaration which was very cumbersome for both the declarant and the Commission’s limited workforce. To further make it more convenient and less time consuming for all parties involved, the Commission has again introduced the online Asset declaration portal which is as very simple and fast. You can now declare your assets even at the comfort of your home, without breaking a sweat or have to come all the way to our Tower Hill office.
The Commission is doing all these modifications to ease the burden of asset declaration on public officers and to avoid unnecessary excuses. Despite all these deliberate efforts by the Commission to soften the process, some public officials are still unwilling to declare their assets as they believe it to be a witch-hunt on their properties/assets. Some will deliberately under-declare their assets, or not wanting to declare at all, for fear of being termed corrupt or being targeted by ACC. Asset declaration is fast becoming a universal instrument to enhance public sector transparency and accountability, promote integrity and prevent corruption.
But is asset declaration really a tool to witch-hunt officials or to protect them from undue public scrutiny and prosecution for unexplained wealth after they would have left office? Of course the latter is correct. Asset declaration is a protective measure for public officials, it can also serve as a guide or a checker for officials not to amass wealth through illegal channels. According to Transparency International, the main goals of asset declarations are to increase transparency and citizens' trust in government, by disclosing information about politicians' and civil servants' assets. It demonstrates that they have nothing to hide; and finally, to assist heads of public institutions in preventing and resolving conflicts of interest among their employees, in order to promote integrity.
In a briefing paper provided to the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development in 2005, Gyimah-Boadi argues that a credible and effective assets disclosure process is an important part of the ensemble of laws and structures required for democratic administration. It helps in the prevention of public officials abusing their positions of power, protect public assets and the common good, defend the public from corruption, promote public officials' integrity, as well as public accountability and trust, and governmental legitimacy. He goes on to say that a credible asset declaration process is beneficial to public officials as well, by protecting public officials' private assets against unjust and extra-legal seizure and protect public authorities from unfounded accusations of malfeasance and other forms of defamation.
For instance, a public officer might have inherited properties from his/her parents; some might even have extra sources of making money in their free time, others have worked in the private sector before coming to public life. To protect these individuals from alleged involvement in corrupt activities and or seizure by the State, that is why the Commission has been relentless in urging public officials to declare their assets bi-annually as a means to protect public officials.
Taking into consideration the society we are living in, where everything a public officer owns is attributed to it being from corrupt proceeds, it is but necessary for them (public officials) to be declaring their sources of income, their assets and liabilities so as to allay people’s fears and protect their hard-earned assets after they shall have left office.