By: Alex A. Bah, Communications Officer, ACC
Corruption has for the longest time being one of the greatest cankerworm that has forestalled the socio-economic progress of humans, exacerbated poverty and inequality, eroded/muzzled justice systems, and has thus fueled majority of civil unrests in different parts of the World. Since Sierra Leone identified the urging need for an anti-graft agency, and joined global forces in devising and applying an antidote to curb this menacing terror, the country has in many respects made huge gains in spite of its very many imminent challenges.
The recurrent of corruption allegations against individuals serving in public offices, and questions on the probity of those serving in those capacities initiated the impetus for assets disclosure and finances for public records. This integrity check gained prominence in the late nineties with several countries across the globe absorbing it in their anti-graft campaigns.
In Sierra Leone, compulsory assets declaration only came into being in 2008 by the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, which saw the 2000 Act repealed and replaced. Prior to 2008, Public Officers generally were not subjected to any form of assets declaration, with exception of the Local Councils, which pursuant to Part XV, Section 104 of the 2004 Local Government Act had in a provision of compulsory Asset Declaration for Councilors. The 2008 ACC Act, made Assets Declaration compulsory for all public officers right across the board. This declaration as provided for, by the 2008 Act, had declaration of Assets, Income and Liabilities compulsory on an annual basis. It had provision for penalties for non-compliance that includes publication of name/s of public officers on gazette, and subsequent charge to court.
However, the many lacunas in the 2008 Act made the process very strenuous, laborious, and cumbersome. Thus, in 2019, there was an amendment of Section 119 of the 2008 Act, that was adequate and exhaustive, and equally provided sanctions; written notification, withholding of salary and summary dismissal. The amendment further made the declaration bi-annual as opposed to annual, and binding only on public officers from Grade 7 upwards, or those with fiduciary/financial responsibility, irrespective of Grade. These legal reforms necessitated a swift monumental upsurge in the compliance rate of public officers. In 2019, a cumulative total of 17,212 assets declaration forms were received in full completion, but in 2020 when the preceding year’s amendment came into force there was an over 100% increase in the turnout of assets declaration forms received in full completion, which exceeded 35,000.
According to the World Bank, over 160 countries have introduced this scheme that is both a preventive and enforcement framework. Sierra Leone’s revolutionary approach with its 2019 amendment has seen huge impact with its bolster sanctions to improve enforcement and compliance. This drive to prevent illicit enrichment of persons serving in public offices by subjecting them to this accountability scrutiny continues to yield huge dividends.
Gyimah-Boadi, a Ghanaian political scientist and the co-founder of the Afro-barometer, in his Paper presented at the CDD Round Table Discussion on Assets Declaration Regime in June 2005, titled “Enhancing the Credibility of the Public Office Holders Declaration Regime”, argues that, a credible and effective assets declaration regime is an essential component of the ensemble of rules and structures necessary for democratic governance. He furthered that Assets helps to prevent abuse of power by holders of public office. This in turn helps protect public assets and project public interest, whilst minimizing corruption, fostering integrity in public life, promoting accountability, trust, and governmental legitimacy. This is all motived to maximize the interest of the people, by keeping in check those who have opted and trusted to serve, to do so with diligence. It is a compulsory makeup to suppress any such innate human greed and selfish tendencies, to yield into kleptocracy or recklessness in the discharge of duties that will have far reaching impacts on the people.
However, Boadi furthered that a credible assets declaration regime is also good for public officials. This is the protection of these individuals that opted and have committed themselves into serving society. He noted that it helps protect their private assets from wrongful and extra-legal confiscation, which in some cases may have been motivated by some personal vendetta or whatsoever, and equally protect and safeguard them from undue and unwarranted suspicion, baseless and unfounded allegations of wrongdoing, and all manner of calumny.
The fierce revolution against corruption with this effective and highly economic proactive approach has seen no small impressive results, especially in the last three years. With this year’s major shift from previous years of manual declaration to online/digital, marks an incentive purposed to make it less burdensome, in which the process can be done at the comfort of a public officer. The online form can be completed in less than an hour, with sections that requires a public officer to declare all assets, income and liabilities owned solely or jointly by the public officer whom at that point is a declarant. Nonetheless, there is still provision for the paper declaration, where the Forms can be accessed at the ACC offices and filled and submitted on or before March 31, 2022. However, this opportunity is limited to places where there are challenges with internet connectivity and access to devices that will enhance the online declaration process.
The underlining motive of all of these is to make all public officers accustomed to accountability in the discharge of their duties. The aspect of reactive corruption fight that is very costly and not all assuring, will be not so much useful when people are being guided and guarded so as not to attempt exploring opportunities to be corrupt, and swim in the pool of illicit enrichment at the dire expense of the State and its People.