Corruption threat as officials refrain from declaring assets

By Khulile Thwala

Across the world, most countries expect their top leaders to declare assets with the relevant commissions, and when they do not, this can lead to political instability due to high susceptibility to corruption.

According to the global coalition against corruption, Transparency International, politicians and civil servants hold substantial power over the allocation of resources in their countries and the citizens who elect them, and who in effect pay their salaries through their tax contributions. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which has been ratified by 166 countries, requires a legal framework for asset declarations of government officials.

In Eswatini, the body responsible for ensuring asset declarations are duly conducted and politicians are held to account is the Eswatini Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration/Integrity, which at the beginning of the year undertook an exercise to encourage senior officials in government parastatals and offices as well as principal secretaries to declare their assets. Worth noting is that Members of Parliament (MPs) and top government officials, including the prime minister, have previously declared their assets.

Speaking to the Eswatini Financial Times, Acting Executive Secretary at the Commission Phumlani Dlamini shared that since the campaign which ensued in February this year, 26 officials from five parastatals, two judges and one principal secretary have declared their assets and liabilities. He further highlighted that the Commission was in the process of tabling a piece of legislation for the Integrity Commission to enable it to ensure systematic assets and liabilities declaration and sanctions for failure, thereof.

“Five parastatals requested presentations on the declaration of assets and liabilities and are currently submitting their declaration forms in readiness for signing on oath before the Commissioner.

“The Commission would like to commend the senior government and public officials who have complied with their constitutional obligation in this regard. We also wish to encourage those that have not yet done so to make do so,” says Dlamini.

Transparency International says hiding high-value assets and not listing potential conflicts of interest, including business deals with companies that have government contracts, breeds corruption in States.

Research shows that an asset declaration open to public scrutiny is a way for citizens to ensure leaders do not abuse their power for personal gain. Asset declarations are a means to anchor the issue of ethics and integrity in the political classes and should be part of all codes of conduct.

There are currently no international standards mandating how asset declarations are made and monitored, hence why in Eswatini, there is no obligation to make the information on the assets declared public.

UNCAC defines asset declaration as a person’s balance sheet and states that it should cover assets, from all homes, valuables, and financial portfolios, to liabilities, such as debts and mortgages, and all sources of income from directorships and investments to consulting contracts. It should also include gifts and sponsorship deals and any potential conflicts of interest such as unpaid employment contracts and participation in non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The leadership of the three branches of government – Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary – and senior career civil servants should be required to file asset declarations before and after taking office as well as periodically (annually or every two years) during office.

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