By Victor Emejuiwe
Sir: A close review of the guidelines on asset declaration as produced by the Code of Conduct Bureau shows some possible loopholes which may be responsible for the low rate of compliance and abuse of asset declaration by public servants in the declaration of their assets.
Recall Section 15 (1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act which provides that every public officer shall submit to the Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities, and those of his spouse or unmarried children under the age of 18 years.
In relation to this; the CCB sets up guideline for public servants in the declaration of asset form.
The guidelines contains some provisions with loose ends; for instance, it provides that the responsibility to collect, fill and return the form rests solely with the declarant; therefore, submission of completed forms by the declarant through his/her respective head of department does not in any way exonerate declarant from responsibility or liability.
It is my view that placing the responsibility on the declarant to source for the asset declaration form leaves it at the discretion of the declarant to decide when to comply with the law. Obtaining the form from the CCB might also be seen as a tedious process and newly appointees would rather take their time to fulfil this obligation.
Obtaining the form should be made easy by creating access for online declaration or domiciling the forms with the employers of the declarants.
However, only the completed and acknowledged copy from the CCB should be returned to the employer which should also serve as part of the mandatory document required by the employee before assumption of duties. This will reduce the number of non-compliance in the declaration of asset form
Another provision that might appear herculean for newly appointed public servant to fulfil is the provision, which mandates that after completion of the form, the declarant must go personally and swear to the declaration before a high court judge nearest to his work station before submitting it to the Bureau.
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This might be inconvenient for so many. However an online declaration with a juror attesting to the legality and establishing an oath of asset declared by the declarant online should rather suffice. This will again eliminate procrastination and eliminate excuses of inconvenience.
The guideline also provides that declaration of assets would be subject to verification by the authorized officers of the bureau. In view of this provision, the pro-activeness of the authorized officers of the bureau to verify suspicious asset declarations would help prevent corruption in public service.
The law frowns at anticipated declaration. Meanwhile some public officials resume their appointment in public offices with the mind-set of enriching themselves illegally while in office, as a result they make anticipated declaration of their assets and liabilities.
As stated earlier, if the verification officers of the bureau are proactive, they would notice the red flags in some declarations made and report them to the relevant anti-corruption agencies.
The sanction mechanism as provided in the guideline is rather insufficient to deter culprit who must have acquire more assets and liabilities beyond their entitlements in office.
The guideline restricts sanctions to provision of paragraph 11 of the 5th schedule of the 1999 constitution which provides for (a) removal of office, (b) disqualification from office and (c) forfeiture to the state any property acquired in abuse of office or dishonesty.
There is need for a stricter sanction regime to include imprisonment of offender.
In conclusion, there is need to review the CCB guideline to tighten loose ends and make compliance to asset declaration easy.
Victor Emejuiwe, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.