Some 45 officials in schedule I, including members of parliament, a secretary and heads of non-government organisations, have failed to declare their assets.
They have not done it so even in the month-long grace period the Anti Corruption Commission allows. Are our ‘big” officials up to something then? Will they be dealt with as per the ACC rules? The rule is not especially harsh. They will be considered in possession of unexplained wealth and could be investigated.
While the poor response may be viewed as the Bhutanese penchant for doing everything at the last moment, an investigation is what ACC should do. Not so much because they could be hiding wealth, but to send a strong signal that rules should be abided by, and that these crop of top officials should have been the first to do so.
There will not be much, hopefully, to unearth, even if ACC starts an investigation. It will just be a waste of time, money and energy, when the ACC is already overwhelmed with so many cases to investigate. The disclosure of wealth is not an intrusion of privacy. It is a measure to check unethical practice and corruption in the civil and public sector, and bring about greater transparency, so as to help prevent corruption.
The irony is that those, who are engaged in making laws, and preaching about transparency and accountability, have failed to uphold a simple rule. This will not set a good example for the rest of the people to follow. Many panic when the deadline approaches to declare their asset. And, surprisingly, these are people without much to declare. But they do it, and on time.
Officials in schedule I have the privilege of personal or office secretaries to fill up the forms, which actually is all it takes to declare one’s assets. Unless there is something to hide, anybody can do it in a matter of a few minutes.
Disproportion of wealth to income, especially salaried income, can happen. This is because there are so many legal ways to amass wealth. But public officials, who own a lot of assets and property, are not necessarily corrupt. Some inherit, some have spouses doing brisk businesses, and some invest wisely. The asset declaration rule is not to stop them from acquiring assets or property.
A rule to make public servant declare assets has existed since the 1980s. It was never enforced. The asset declaration rule gave the legal tooth, but implementing it is still a problem, going by the response. The ACC should take some people to task, to make it loud and clear that rules are rules and should be followed, whether one is in schedules I or III.
It is important for elected leaders and those holding important posts at the higher level to lead by example and portray the right values. We don’t want the bulk of the public to feel there are two sets of rules for two schedules.