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Asset Declaration in Ghana: Public Deception or Reality
NEWS | GACC News

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

Kweku posts the photograph of a Ghana- 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 Cobinna’s salary was stated as US$96,910.  He did not end it there. Another Ghanaian-American, Solomon D. Lartey, who works as Record Management Analyst at the White House, and receives 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 assets of public officials to be published sounds like using touch light to see through a brick wall, I was stunned.

 

In other not to be crucified as peddling falsehood, Kweku provided a website, https://www.whitehouse.gov/21stcenturygov/tools/salaries, that I dashed to see the two gentlemen listed at number 81 and 241 respectively alongside 472 other on the White House payroll.

 

Our breed of democracy

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

 

I quote him: “Now my question is how come we in Africa, particularly in Ghana also beat our chest that we practice 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 United States, but I cannot find that of my friend Stan Xoese Dogbe`s salary at Ghana government portal?

 

“How come I cannot find any public office holder or Parliamentarians, ministers 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), 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 1992, 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 Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), captured in an interesting way, the public 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.

 

In 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2013, the issue of which political appointees owned what and the public right to know where those properties were before and after they took office have been very topical. Over the years, civil society organisations have led the crusade for asset declaration by public officials.

 

They continue to pile pressure on political appointees of new governments to declare their assets and liabilities. Asset declaration is an anti-corruption tool that seeks to take inventory of the economic status of public office holders before they take office and after they have left office to ensure accountability.

 

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.

 

It is acknowledged by its proponents that among other benefits, asset declaration is an indispensable component of the chain of rules and structure necessary for democratic governance and ensures probity, accountability and helps curb corruption.

 

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 looting 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.”

 

obama dog bo was listed in assets

 

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.

 

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.”

Osinbajo Buhari

Opposition likes asset declaration
It is also interesting that over the years, politicians only know the essence of asset declaration when they are in opposition.

During an intense debate on the floor of Parliament on the floor of Parliament on asset declaration on March 18, 1998, the then New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament for Akim Swedru, Felix Owusu-Adjapong could not hide his disappointment with the existing asset declaration regime.

“We are told the current practice (disclosure of interest) is that you fill in the form, you seal it, you give it to the Auditor-General and then they are locked to gather dust. If that is all the nation wants to do, then, I am afraid we do not need to spend our hard earned resources for such an exercise,” he was quoted as saying in the Parliamentary hazard.

His colleagues in government, however, had an interesting response.

The then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Dr Obed Asamoah, who argued that public disclosure, would amount to the invasion of privacy. Another attempt at justifying the stance was from the then Majority Leader J.H Owusu Acheampong who comically said “somebody can look at it (asset declaration) and go and organise thieves to steal the properties.”

One person who was also vociferous in the NDC about asset declaration was the MP for Tamale South and now the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

Speaking at workshop on making asset declaration more accountable and transparent in Ghana on July 9, 2008, he was quoted by the Ghana News Agency as saying “Mr Speaker, I do not believe that mere declarations are enough as the declaration of assets is not an end in itself; it is my submission that we develop a new mechanism to monitor such declarations to compare the income of a person against his declared assets.”

He was also reported as saying that asset declaration should include spouses and children of public officeholders—a comment that suggested that public officeholders may be registering their assets in the name of their family members.

The then Minority leader, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, who is now the speaker of Parliament also said at the same event that asset declaration was only one aspect of fighting corruption, and added that education was crucial for the fight against corruption, while stressing work to be expedited on the Right to Information Bill to be made an effective tool in the process of Assets Declaration

Many years down the line, all these political actors  who spoke for accountability and transparency in asset declaration while in position have either been in government or are in power, now but nothing have since been heard about their position on this issue.

Ghana, like many countries across the world is struggling with whether to make asset declaration information accessible to the public.  The fundamental issue remains whether or not public access to this information violates the privacy of public officials, or poses a threat to their security. However, for the proponents of public disclosure, the privacy issue is a non-starter, since individuals could choose whether to enter public service or not. If they chose the former, arguably, part of the price they have to pay is waiving their right to privacy.

What is also sad about the new asset declaration law is that it stinks and glorifies PNDC Law 280.

The PNDC Law 280 makes declarations transparent as the Auditor-General was required to publish the assets declared by public officers within 14 days of submission. While Act 550 appears to have no teeth, the ultimate effect of PNDC Law 280 was generally seen as flawed because the assets declared were not confirmed by the Auditor-General, giving some senior public office holders the opportunity to exploit the loophole and portray themselves as poor.
- See more at: http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/57041-asset-declaration-in-ghana-public-deception-or-reality.html#sthash.Bz9nVuV5.dpuf

Source: http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/57041-asset-declaration-in-ghana-public-deception-or-reality.html

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