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Sierra Leone News: Asset Disclosure

As the country prepares for the presidential election, early next year, and examines the ever-growing field of candidates, there is one question voters should ask every presidential aspirant: did you publicly disclose your assets?
A voter should have the right to access records on a candidate’s portfolio of wealth, property, and investments to ensure they are not involved in corruption or have potential conflicts of interest. Dozens of academic papers show that a strong system of public asset disclosure decreases government corruption and the misuse of public funds. Extravagant, unexplained wealth can often be a sign of public servants abusing their power, so the annual public disclosure of assets can help journalists and the public keep track of suspicious changes in an official’s finances.
Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) Chairman, Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray, announced yesterday that he would be publically disclosing his assets this October as part of his presidential campaign. He further urged all other presidential aspirants and public servants to declare their assets, not just during the campaign, but annually.
“Every government official should do that every year because that is the only way to eradicate corruption,” Kamarainba said. “So if I say I have a house and after a year of being President I have ten houses, everyone will want to know where I got ten houses from.”
Asset disclosure increases transparency and political accountability; two areas where organizations like the World Bank say Sierra Leone’s government needs to improve. The World Bank’s recent $30 million USD credit to the national budget included directives to increase the number of public servants who disclose their assets and to implement “administrative sanctions” or penalties for officials who don’t comply. Only 20% of government officials filed asset declaration forms in 2015, so the World Bank has urged the government to increase participation to 90% by the year 2020 through changes in policy.
“When [asset disclosure] systems are linked to codes of conduct, that can enforce and uphold integrity standards of officials, such tools can be a powerful checks and balance to prevent corruption and detect the theft of public assets,” said a World Bank report.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is also requesting officials comply with their 2008 law that all public officers file a “a sworn declaration of income, assets and liabilities” as soon as possible. Their public notices have prompted an increase in asset disclosure over the last two years, especially among ministers and top officers.
But it’s not enough for politicians and officials to only disclose their assets to the government or the ACC. They need to make them available to the public. If citizens, independent regulatory organizations, and journalists don’t have access to these documents, then we’re left in the dark. All this talk of transparency is just talk if the disclosures aren’t open. This is especially true for the president, ministers, and top officials who often amass the most wealth from corrupt use of funds.
Publically declaring one’s assets and income has become a normal part of presidential elections and governments around the world. American presidential candidates have been releasing their tax returns and assets for decades to show they have nothing to hide. President Donald Trump shockingly broke from the norm when he refused to disclose his assets during the campaign. Journalists later found evidence that he may not have paid any income taxes for up to 18-years. A damaging revelation like this may have been one of the reasons he was so against transparency.
The President is supposed to be untethered from conflicts of interest, so releasing their tax returns shows the public that they’re not acting in their own interest at the expense of the country. The President or Ministers could make decisions or allocate funds that would enrich their own investments, but they would be unlikely to do so if we knew what investments they had.
Like Kamarainba said, every presidential candidate should publically disclose their assets as a demonstration of their commitment to transparency. It’s unlikely this will happen unless the citizens of this great country, demand it. Call your party office, write to the AAC, or contact your candidate directly. It’s time to make asset disclosure the new normal and bring about a new age of transparency.
Fariday July 21, 2017.

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