Speakers at MFWA forum blame poor sanctioning regime for disregard for asset declaration law

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Speakers at a forum organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) on asset declaration by public office holders and the fight against corruption in Ghana say the lack of sanctions is responsible for the non-compliance of the asset declaration to the law by many public office holders.

“I find it so disappointing that when public declaration by President Nana Akufo-Addo was challenged by the MFWA and information was put out there, nothing was done,” said the Executive Director of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, Beauty Emefa Narteh.

The forum was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) following a series of publications by The Fourth Estate which revealed that many ministers, parliamentarians, and other government officials failed to declare their assets as mandated by the law.

The Fourth Estate’s Findings

Information obtained by The Fourth Estate shows that out of the 127 ministers who served in President Akufo-Addo’s first term (2017-2021), only 27 people fully complied with the law. This means only 21% of the ministers and deputy ministers declared their assets and liabilities.

In the president’s second term, 50 out of the 87 ministerial appointees (representing 57%) have complied with the law.

For the Mahama administration (2013-2017), only 39 out of the 102 ministers (including reshuffled and resigned ones), fully complied with the law, representing a compliance rate of 34%

For the sixth parliament (2013-2017), 20 out of 275 MPs (7.2%) fully declared their assets.

 In the current (eighth) parliament, 95 MPs out of 275 have fulfilled their obligations to the law meant to prevent public officeholders from illicitly enriching themselves while in office.

Among the three arms of government, the judiciary is the most compliant. Out of the 96 superior court judges appointed from 2017 to date, 14, failed to declare their assets and liabilities. The judges have an 85.4% compliance rate.

President Akufo-Addo publicly said in 2017 that all his ministerial appointees had declared their assets. However, The Fourth Estate’s series showed that many of them had not, a situation Mrs. Narteh said should have prompted the president to act.

“So, if the president was deceived by his appointees that they had declared their assets while they actually had not done so, my expectation was to have a quick response from the president, sanctioning those appointees for deception, which is a criminal offence. But nothing has been done so far unless it’s been done on the blindside of the public,” she said.

 

Mrs. Narteh faulted the asset declaration regime for failing to provide the necessary framework for verifying declared assets and liabilities.

“So, I can say that the asset declaration regime, as it stands, has not provided the needed framework for us to be able to ascertain the issues around verification of the assets”

An anti-corruption crusader, Vitus Azeem, noted that the “lack of commitment on the part of leadership” had contributed enormously to the non-compliance with the law.

“As far as 2008, we met the relevant committees of parliament to look at the regulations of Act 550. As of today, we don’t have the regulations of the Act, because there were disagreements,” he added.

With no clearly spelt out punitive measures in the law to deal with defaulters, the law leaves the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) with discretionary powers.

MP for Zebilla, Cletus Avoka( First left front row) was among the participants

However, a law lecturer at the University of Professional Studies, Justice Abdulai, observed that CHRAJ had not used its powers enough to compel public officeholders to comply with the law.

That, he said, had emboldened such public officials, who were aware of CHRAJ’s history of not coming down hard on defaulters.

Ghana’s laws empower the Audit Service and CHRAJ to implement the asset to declaration law. However, public officials have continued to enter and leave office without declaring their assets.

Participants at the forum attributed the loophole to the ineffective works of CHRAJ and the Audit Service and charged them to “do more”.

But in its defence, the director in charge of anti-corruption at CHRAJ, Stephen Azantilow, said the institution had been working in their best capacity to ensure compliance with the law and was currently investigating over 400 issues relating to asset declaration.

Mr Stephen Azantilow, the Director in charge of Anti-corruption at CHRAJ, mounted a strong defence against criticism that the commission is not leaving up to expectation

The investigation is as a result of a petition filed by four Ghanaians using the evidence provided by The Fourth Estate publications.

While in the past the Audit Service only accepted the documents without verifying its content, a senior officer from the legal department of the Audit Service, Anita-Delight Danquah, said the envelopes were now opened and the contents verified.

Responding to calls for the Audit Service to do physical verification of all assets declared, Ms Danquah said CHRAJ, not the Audit Service, had the capacity to handle that aspect of the work.

“Fortunately for CHARJ, they are the investigators, and we are the custodians. We audit, when you bring it. We look through. We make sure everything is set. We can’t verify if it is true or not true…maybe we should go further, but the further should be from CHARJ because they have the investigative arm. Audit Service doesn’t so we ensure that you do the basic things.”

The Editor-in-Chief of the Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, noted that although public institutions such as CHRAJ and Audit Service were working at making government officials comply with the law, there was more they could do, adding that “they won’t go hungry if they do their work. A week after he was removed from office, former Auditor General, Domelevo, had another job”.

His remarks follow his observation that some employees in Ghana’s anti-corruption institutions feared victimization, which accounts for their silence on some pressing matters.

What does the law say?

Article 286 (1) of the 1992 Constitution states that “a person who holds a public office mentioned in clause (5) of this Article shall submit to the Auditor-General written declaration of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities by him whether directly or indirectly (a) within three months after the coming into force of this constitution or before taking office, as the case may be, (b) at the end of every four years; and (c) at the end of his term of office.”

The Constitution requires the declaration to be done before the public officer takes office. However, Section 1(4) (c) of the Public Office holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act directs public office holders to meet this requirement “not later than six months after taking office, at the end of every four years and not later than six months at the end of his or her term.”

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