One of the most difficult ventures in the fight against corruption the world over has been the drive to initiate accountability within the public sector space, especially with public officers. The nature of governance arrangements between state and non-state actors are often complex, thus, accountability gaps need to be adequately retrenched.
Wealth declaration which is otherwise called Assets Declaration is a key global accountability system that gained prominence in the late nineties with several countries absorbing it in their anti-graft strategies. Its underlying and compelling importance, is aimed at preventing illicit enrichment; unexplained wealth and assets, prevent conflicts of interest, and forge a culture of integrity in the public service.
The importance of legal and appropriate regulatory mechanisms, to tailor every human’s unending often selfish quest to satisfy their insatiable wants was posited by Lionel Robbins in his Landmark Essay on the Nature of Economics *“the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”*
With over 160 countries globally that have adopted this anti-graft preventive measure according to the World Bank, Sierra Leone is among these countries to have Assets Declaration very integral in its efforts to win the fight against corruption. The 2008 Act was the first and fundamental cornerstone that attempted to initiate accountability in the public sector – save for the Local Government that pursuant to its Act; Part XV, Section 104 of 2004, had provision for a compulsory Asset Declaration only but for Councilors.
Part of the initial commitment of Francis Ben Kaifala after his appointment, was a firm promise not only to make corruption a *HIGH RISK* and *LOW RETURN VENTURE,* but also to radically fight corruption, and not to *SHADOW BOX*. To this end, there was a compelling need for appropriate policy and legal provisions to give the Commission the *‘locus standi’* to take corruption *‘head on’* and control it for good. As crucially important as this is, a robust and revolutionized Assets Declaration regime was effected, to guide and guard the conduct of public officers to instill integrity in public life.
In 2019, following the enactment of the amendment of the 2008 Anti-Corruption Act, the Assets Declaration exercise was remodeled and robed with a more robust strategy. The provisions in the amendment were ample and appropriate, with clearly spelt-out sanctions. Within the period of 90 days, a public official is expected to declare his/her assets. This 90 days can be extended by the Commissioner to another 90 days, and if a public officer is still recusant and fail to declare, a notice outlining the sanctions will be sent within a further seven (7) days.
These ‘Administrative Sanctions’ on public officers who fail to declare or submit their Assets Declaration Forms (ADFs) are contained within the spirit of Section 122 (5) which states; *“Where a Public Officer fails to comply with a default notice issued by the Commission under subsection (2), the Commissioner shall direct that the Accountant General, the Director-General, Human Resource Management Office or an Officer responsible for the payment of salary as the case may be:*
*a. withhold the salary of the Public Officer;*
*b. suspend the Public Officer after one month but not more than three months; and*
*c. dismiss the public officer after three months”.*
Notably, the 2019 amendment made declaration bi-annual as opposed to annual. This was an attempt to enhance efficiency in this critically important process, and ensure it is manageable. Categories of public officers to declare assets were also modified, with the amendment providing for declaration only binding on public officers from grade 7 upwards, and those in the lower grades, but are Financially Exposed Persons (FEPs) with fiduciary responsibilities, dealing with monies, and exercise discretion for licenses and permits. This equally covers elected officials or political appointees, also referred to as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). Public Officers just employed are also required within three (3) months to declare their assets.
These radical and appropriate reforms led to a huge compliance success rate. In 2019, a cumulative total of 17,212 asset declaration forms were received in full completion. In 2020, *35000 forms* were received in full completion, which is over *a 100% increase* in the turnout of assets declaration forms.
With the unsurprisingly remarkable compliance success rate in the declaration year of 2020, the ACC introduced a digitalized system for the just concluded declaration period 2022, going forward. 2022 also had an online declaration of *5,338* public officers, showing a significant commitment to the online declaration process. This move further underscores the determination of the Commission, to prevent corruption and enhance accountability. The online user-friendly platform allows public officers to declare and submit their assets declaration forms online in the comfort of their homes
These and many more, are the *“revolutionized”* blueprints employed by the Francis Ben Kaifala-led ACC. Worthy to note is that, whilst it is a shield that protects and vindicates public officers, it is also a sword that has thus far, been instrumental in suppressing avenues and opportunities for corruption and unexplained wealth that once permeated the corridors of the public service.