EMBRACING ASSETS DECLARATION AUDITS
FIVE YEARS AFTER the 2005 presidential and legislative elections in Liberia, the General Auditing Commission has launched an audit into the assets declarations of various public officials, including the President in a bid to ascertain the extent of their wealth and compliances with tax regulations.
THE GAC must be commended for taking on such a surmountable task which by all means will show the world how far Liberia has come and where it intends to go.
IT ALL STARTED five years ago during the inauguration of Africa’s first woman head of state, when President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared to the world that her government would be zero-tolerance when it comes to corruption.
SAID SIRLEAF: “I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example. The first testament of how my Administration will tackle public service corruption will be that everyone appointed to high positions of public trust such as in the Cabinet and heads of public corporations will be required to declare their assets, not as part of a confirmation requirement, but as a matter of policy. I will be the first to comply by declaring my assets. My Administration will also accord high priority to the formulation and passage into law of a National Code of Conduct, to which all public servants will be subjected.
THE PRESIDENT went on to say that Liberia is to achieve development and anti-corruption goals, Liberians must welcome and embrace the Governance and Economic Management Program (GEMAP) which the National Transitional Government of Liberia, working with our international partners, has formulated to deal with the serious economic and financial management deficiencies in Liberia.
BUT THE ROAD to transparency and zero tolerance on corruption has been a difficult and daunting one for the government. On many occasions, government officials have had to be forced to declare their assets. In fact, it took a strong warning from Sirleaf last year to reignite the fire and force current ministers to declare their assets.
OVER THE YEARS, the reluctance to declare assets has not only been limited to the Executive Branch alone. In the national legislature, the issue has been remarkably frustrating.
IN MOST developing nations – or countries seeking foreign assistance, provisions are made for a yearly filing interval in addition to the initial declaration upon entry into office and after the end of the term. According to Transparency International, Uganda and The Gambia appear to be exceptions with a two year filing requirement while Ghana requires office holders to make a declaration at the end of every four years. Filing methods can be electronic or in a written via a prescribed form such as in Tanzania or Ghana. Liberia does not have a stipulate period for filing.
In Cameroon, although asset declaration is mandatory for all public officials, reports are not verified effectively and mis-declarations are not penalized, leading to unsatisfactory enforcement of asset disclosure regulations.
IN LIBERIA, critics have pointed out that because there is no established legal sanction that would force members of the National Legislature, the Judiciary or other public office holders to declare, many are taking the country for a ride.
PERHAPS IT IS time for the government to stand and be counted if it must separate itself from the bunch of yesteryears.
IF LIBERIA is to move forward, it must embrace change and be willing to exercise political will on matters of corruption. The government must put all of its might behind the GAC on this matter and ensure that officials cooperate and declare their assets in a timely manner. It makes Liberia a better country, if the willingness to change the system is instilled in every well-meaning Liberian looking toward a new Liberia.