About a decade ago, I hosted a heated debate on this show about public office holders grabbing state lands waa waa waa and for a pittance. It was turned into the usual ugly mindless nation-wrecking political equalization game. NPP officials who stood accused dug out documents pointing to NDC officials as having also benefited from a similar scheme.

That’s the lowlife stupidity and arrant nonsense corrupt politicians and their misguided loyalties subject Ghanaians to daily on radio and TV. How exactly is a competition in which of the duopoly has more thieving officials, a solution to the rot they supervise?

I prefer a commission of enquiry probing the generational greed extended to Accra’s only green belt, the Achimota Forest Reserve. But Lands Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor’s disclosures and bold action give as much hope as the OSP’s promise to get to the bottom of the bizarre developments revealed in Sir John’s will. But who doesn’t know that stealing public funds to acquire property secretly in the name of relatives and third parties is the standard operating manual for the generation of greedy politicians?

One way to check the unbridled thievery, especially by party people who have hijacked our democracy, treating national assets as spoils of war, is an effective asset declaration cum sanctions for unexplained wealth. The lack of these checks is a tacit endorsement of the daylight robbery at the expense of suffering citizens.

The constitution commands that once appointed, one must declare his assets and liabilities in writing to the Auditor-General BEFORE taking office. How is it that many public officers, and as Daniel Domelevo discloses, including some judges, even of the highest court failed to comply with this basic requirement until it becomes an issue?

This is the case even under the weakest asset declaration regime variously described as “useless”, “a joke” or “a toothless bulldog”. This is because people deliver their list in a sealed envelope without any third-party verification, and there is no public disclosure to enable citizens to blow the whistle when they have suspicions about the fresh acquisition of assets by a public officer.

Notwithstanding the opaqueness of the current regime, some citizens detected and lodged complaints at the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) over contravention of the law. CHRAJ does not seem to sanction defaulting officeholders in a manner that deters the conduct. Recently, when it was established that the EC boss had not made the declaration before assuming office, it treated her with kid gloves because she did it in the course of the probe.

This week, Parliament woke up from slumber, with pretenders including the Majority Leader. They purported publicly to commit to asset declaration because of the revelation that the late Forestry Commission CEO, Sir John, breached article 286. A number of times, in 2015, 2017, and 2019, you heard me call out the MPs for refusing to pass the CHRAJ-sponsored Conduct of Public Officers’ Act introduced in the House almost a decade ago.

Their problem has been that the new bill requires some verification of their declared assets and liabilities. On the issue of the publication, they have argued among others that that will expose them to armed robbery. In June 2015, I presented a paper to leaders in the anti-corruption campaign front under the auspices of the Ghana Integrity Initiative and the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition and made a case for verification and publication.

Let’s demand it because the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550) by which one submits a sealed envelope to the Auditor-General, and only CHRAJ may open it up only when there is a controversy and upon lawful orders to do so, is indeed “a joke” – the former Auditor-General asserts.

This law, I repeat, without any equivocation, is the single most useless piece of legislation passed either by a lousy bundle of legislators or self-serving legislators seeking by law a right to conceal where they are envisaged by chapter 24 of the Constitution to disclose their assets and liabilities before assuming public office.

Clearly, if what is declared is not VERIFIED and PUBLICIZED, there is no need for the declaration. Ironically, the current law is interpreted to preserve a public officer’s right to CONCEAL where he ought to DISCLOSE.

If there is no verification by the custodian (Auditor-General) and publication of such assets and liabilities, for example, in the gazette, how will members of the public get to know what is declared in order to complain if at all? The principles of transparency and accountability require nothing less than both verification and publication of the declared assets and liabilities of public officers if the intended mischief the law seeks to cure is to be achieved.

A review of the regime under the Conduct of Public Officers’ Act without a mandatory requirement for verification and publication will mark such a sad retrogression because such declarations were gazetted even under the military PNDC regime.

The Constitution Review Commission summarized the collective will of Ghanaians in desiring as it found that “…though the Constitution attempts to curb the menace of corruption through the assets declaration regime, the absence of compulsion and the lack of transparency in the exercise defeats the very purpose of the regime.”

The 2015 Bill became the 2018 Bill. It is now dusted and labelled the 2022 Bill. It must not be passed if the Auditor-General will not be allowed to independently verify the declarations and if there will not be publication.

There must be sustained advocacy to scrap this regime for a compulsory and transparent one with clear rules for seizing and punishing unexplained wealth. The declaration must include spouses and such other relatives of age that may be deemed necessary.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI
May 28, 2022