Public servants to declaredec assets
IN a sign that the government could be getting serious on tackling corruption and curbing mismanagement of public funds, all government ministers, including the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, principal secretaries and other public officers will now be required to declare their assets while in office and upon retirement.
The declarations will also cover all holders of statutory positions like the Attorney-general, Police Commissioner, Commanders of Lesotho Defence Force, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ombudsman and others.
Although the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act of 1999 required public officers to declare assets, this had never happened because successive administrations did not implement the law by formulating regulations required to effect it.
This has now been done by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Moeketse Malebo, through legal notice No. 8 of 2016 which he tabled in Parliament yesterday.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) will serve as the central registry for all the assets declared by public officials. The definition of public of- ficers seems to be so broadly worded in the regulations that it will require all civil servants to declare their assets to the DCEO.
The assets declarations by public officers will also include them disclosing any special gifts and offers they get while in office.
The legal notice, published in a government gazette dated 5 February 2016, now gives effect to the assets declaration law. It will undergo further scrutiny in both houses of parliament although it is already operational.
Section 63 of the legal notice headlined “Establishment of a central registry for integrity and declared assets” will require the directorGeneral of the DCEO to designate an officer holding a position not below that of a Director or Deputy Director-general to serve as custodian of the records of declared assets by public officers.
The officers so designated shall take a special oath before assuming duties in the DCEO.
Information contained in the Central Registry shall only be released with the written authority of the Director-general of the DCEO. It is nevertheless unclear to which classes of persons this information will be released to and whether this will include any interested member of the public.
But under the new regulations, public officials must indicate the assets they own jointly with their spouses. They must also declare those assets owned by their children below 18-years who are not married. Assets that should be declared include those meant for private use and for commercial purposes. The list of assets includes: “(a) Cash and deposits in a bank or other financial institution;
“(b) Treasury bills and other similar investments in securities of fixed value issues or guaranteed by the government or agencies of the government or any private institution;
“(c) Interest of money deposited in a bank, building society or financial institution;
“(d) Dividend or other profit from stocks or shares held by a public official in any company or other body corporate;
(e) Interests in businesses that do not contract with government and do not own or control publicly traded securities, other than incidentally and whose stocks and shares are not traded publicly;
(f) Farms for private use or for commercial operation;
(g) Real estate such as buildings and other properties.”
The declaration of interest forms must be filled every time a public official assumes office, gets promoted, is demoted, retires/retired, or is transferred from one place to another to assume a different responsibility.
Failure to declare assets within the specified period or submission of falsified information will constitute a criminal offence.
“Failure to submit the declaration within the specified period constitutes breach of Law in terms of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act No.5 of 1999 as amended,” the regulations state.
“It is a criminal offence for a public official to submit a false declaration or information regarding his assets.”
The DCEO’S spokesperson, ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that the regulations applied to all public servants regardless of rank, adding that the legal notice was still subject to any amendments by Parliament since it had just been tabled in the august
The legal notice is in line with the governing seven-party alliance’s Coalition Agreement which was unveiled by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in April 2015. Among the agreement’s priorities was to implement legislation obligating public servants to declare their assets.
This legislation had not been effected despite its importance in curbing corruption seen as being widely rampant in Lesotho.
Part of the Coalition Agreement reads: “The Coalition Government is concerned that the law on the declaration of assets and interests has not been implemented.
“This matter is an important component of transparency and good governance. The Coalition Government will ensure that measures are in place within 12 months for the law relating to the declaration of assets to be complied with.”
The move by the government this week proves that it is ready to keep its word and implement the law to curb graft. It nevertheless remains to be seen whether or not public officers will comply with the new law by declaring their assets or getting censured if they fail to do so. It also remains to be seen whether access to this information should be easily accessible to enable the public to understand the wealth status of public officers.