More than a decade ago, when the Anti Corruption Commission, through its asset declaration rule, made it mandatory for public officials to declare their asset, one concern was on its implementation.
Besides concerns of invasion into privacy, there were suspicions that those who needed to be monitored the most are those who slip through the system.
This week a team of officials from the anti graft office is visiting offices in the capital, sensitising and creating awareness on the asset declaration rule and the system.
By the next income year, the rule would be 13 years old. According to officials, a lot has to be improved.
Compliance rate has improved, but there is problem in the quality of declaration. In other words, the bigger problem is about how accurately they declare their assets and liabilities. At the sensitisation programmes, officials were nice and polite in pointing out the flaws. It is a second chance for officials to improve and abide by the rule.
The asset declaration rule is not an intrusion into privacy or stopping people from amassing wealth. It is a system to build trust and confidence in our institutions and public officials who handle public resources. It is a good mechanism to ensure transparency.
Those who are mandated to declare their asset are categorised into two schedules. There are about 600 top ranked public officials and elected people in schedule I, including those in the monk body. In the last income year, one has not declared his assets and some had delayed in declaring theirs.
Schedule II covers all public officials in position level P5 and above with the exception of teachers. There are more than 24,000 people. There are none declarants in this schedule II. ACC is already penalising people for violating the rule.
Besides the monetary fines, ACC had not taken people to task. Today, the asset declaration system is not linked to other systems to keep tab on who is doing what. Therefore, incorrect declaration has escaped the ACC’s scanner. Besides a few calls to explain, nobody was brought to task.
The asset declaration rule is not meant to investigate people’s wealth and its sources and keep tab of how much they declare during tax time. The logic of the asset declaration rule is that public officials who have earned a good income have reasons to be transparent and every right to be proud.
The tone is changing, however. The anti graft through the sensitisation programme is subtly warning people of the consequences on not declaring or false declaration. It is a corruption prevention tool and covering up deliberately can be costly. This is if the ACC is serious in it assessment and follow-ups after the sensitisation programme.
One question on every public servant’s mind is why are the income earners outside the civil service and corporate employees left out? Could we extend that to the private sector too?