Frankly, many Liberians feel that the lack of political will to enforce the asset declaration law is aiding impunity by top level public officials in the fight against corruption;
Asset declarations offer a critical tool to public officials and those they serve in the prevention, detection, investigation and sanctioning of corruption; Asset Declaration is to monitor wealth acquisition patterns of public officials against declared income.
A strong legal framework is critical for an effective asset declaration regime. The laws that require public officials to disclose details of their assets and liabilities should be robust and comprehensive. The law should clearly include who is covered and what to declare.
In Liberia, Executive Order # 55 states that “public officials are required to declare their income, assets and liabilities prior to or immediately after taking office” a policy that has not been effective. Some may say that the process which is managed by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is selective and is not transparent.
In Liberia, law aiming to prevent corruption and bribery and to regulate the asset declaration procedure has been in force since 2008: Executive Order number 55 on Asset Declaration, Bribery and the Fight against Corruption. Yet do the Liberian people have access to any asset declared by the politicians and senior public officers, who are supposed to declare their wealth? The answer is probably not… Because this Law states that asset declarations must be kept confidential!
In Liberia, asset declaration can only be audited only if there is an investigation about the public officer who submitted the declaration. Without proper investigation to check their content, the confidentiality of asset declarations, secret files and a lack of auditing contribute to the culture of secrecy in our country and thereby jeopardize public welfare as a whole.
All around the world in developed democracies, the asset declarations of politicians and senior bureaucrats are open to the public! Even in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Uganda, Algeria, Thailand and many more – countries with high levels of perceived corruption that are faced with challenges regarding democracy – politicians’ asset declarations are accessible online. But the case in Liberia is different, asset declaration information are kept secretly and confidentially by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission which clearly undermines the intent of the declarations.
There is a need for a system in Liberia, which holds public authorities accountable and makes asset declarations more transparent and open to monitoring. This system must enable citizens to participate in monitoring and provide an effective audit mechanism, thus establishing an approach to governance which prevents corruption and bribery.
To prevent corruption and establish a clean political and public administrative system founded on integrity, transparency and accountability the following is required:
• Independent and competent oversight. Monitoring can help to ensure a high compliance rate and good quality level of reporting by public officials. For this reason the oversight agency for asset declarations must have legal guarantees of independence and a clearly defined mandate. Verification can be done by cross-checking against other verifiable data, physically verifying through investigation, or looking for incompatibilities in interest disclosures.
• Public availability. Public availability of asset information both deters officials from intentionally filing false declarations and encourages corrections for unintentional mistakes. Moreover, it strengthens and facilitates citizens’ involvement in reviewing the declarations.
An official website compiling asset declarations should be established and the data should be open to the public and updated regularly and asset declarations should be audited and monitored regularly for significant changes.
Information is a very powerful tool in the fight against corruption, therefore, if assets declared by public officials are to be used and considered as a tool to promote good governance in Liberia, the Government statutory body responsible to manage the process should make asset declaration information public and available.
By: James Koryor
2013 Participant Anglophone West Africa Youth Integrity Camp