By Victor Emejuiwe
WITH the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, the asset declaration portal of the CCB should be made effective for online declaration of assets. This demand is necessitated by the need for Nigeria to conform to the Assets and Liabilities Declaration Systems (ALDS).
The ALDS are established as part of the anti-corruption and ethics in government movement. Also, the ALDS helps countries to comply with their international obligations under treaties to fight corruption, promote good governance and enhance democracy. This includes Nigeria’s obligations under United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union Convention against Corruption. They are also part of the accountability and transparency framework of modern governance. About 137 countries have ALDS.
ALDS contributes to the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of corruption and they have been established for two principal objectives. The first is to combat conflict of interest situations while the second deals with the challenge of illicit enrichment. A typical ALDS is founded in law or policy and is made up of five different parts namely, compiling the list of persons and officials bound to declare assets; what they should declare; the submission process; verification of submitted information; recourse and enforcement mechanisms.
There should as a minimum be a guarantee that assets and liabilities will be declared, submitted, verified and follow-up mechanisms activated. The ALDS should be able to capture existing assets and changes in wealth, sources of income, potential conflict of interest scenarios, etc. The category of persons bound to declare their asset may have a lot in common with the definition of politically exposed persons (PEPs). PEPs are individuals who are, or have been, entrusted with prominent public functions, their family members and close associates
The submitted disclosures will need to be stored before and after verification. The process of verification of the submitted declarations is usually left to the disclosure agency to manage in Nigeria’s case (the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB). Verification may involve comparing the growth in assets over time, receiving complaints from the public, search of public and private databases and requesting for more information from sister public agencies. Prosecutions and enforcement usually involve the disclosure agency and others.
The background presented above is a preparatory for countries to establish a transparent and accountable system of asset declaration. Nigeria being a signatory to the Assets Liabilities Declaration Systems is expected to establish an open system for Asset Declaration. Although the CCB has kick-started the process for the online declaration of asset, this effort needs to be consolidated during this COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nigerian Online Asset Declaration should be designed to simplify the asset declaration system. It should have strong support mechanisms through websites, online assistance services with designated staff. There should be telephone hotlines to respond to queries. It should in accordance with international best practices request information that reflects the objectives of the disclosure system. The information requested should be relevant, useful and streamlined in such a way that is not burdening to the declarants.
The system should be designed to both notify and send reminders to the declarants on the status of their assets declaration liabilities. Information completed on the online asset declaration should be subject to verification and comparison with data from other datasets; this will make room for functionality and effectiveness of the online asset declaration system. The software to support Online Asset Declaration should be context-specific, designed to meet the identified challenges of the Nigerian situation and not a generic software. The implementation of the online asset declaration framework is imperative in line with the COVID-19 lockdown.
Emejuiwe wrote from Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.