In providing a framework for guiding public officers to carry out proper public behaviour, means are used. Value falls under the means as they are to encourage public officer to the ideals of the public service and irreproachable behaviour. The code of conduct for public officers outlines desirable values and spells out the consequences of not complying.
One of these values is an assets declaration exercise contained in both theConstitution of Nigeria 1999 and Code of Conduct Bureau Tribunal Act of 1990. There is Freedom of Information Act 2011, which pushes the Code of Conduct Bureau under a legal obligation to make public the assets declared by a public officer. These laws require public officers to declare both their assets and liabilities on assumption of office and every four years after the initial declaration.
Assets declaration is a globally trusted standard, which not only lifts the ban on public trust, but decreases the incidence of corruption. It also restores hope and confidence of the public towards their servants because a public officer is a public delegate and a trustee of the commonwealth of the people. With assets declaration, it is relatively easy to identify corrupt public officers, making a comparative analysis of assets declared on assumption of office and on exit, so as to observe or detect ostentatious accumulation. This cannot be identified where the public officer declares an asset that is unidentifiable like an unidentified or missing land.
Assets declaration is a traditional exercise in public service and the page we are now in our democratic experiment is assets publication. The Freedom of Information Act 2011 (FOIA) compels the disclosure of records in the custody of the Bureau to any interested party. The FOIA creates a duty on the part of the Bureau to maintain public register of assets disclosures of public officers to enable public access on application.
The content of a declaration with the bureau is a public document and should be accessible to members of the public on payment of reasonable fees. Assets publication is part of stewardship to the public for the authority held on their behalf. It might be the most difficult case under a privacy exemption, since there is not only a strong right of privacy involved, but sturdy public need to know what material possession is owned by public officers before commencement of duty and some moment thereafter. Privacy of personal information of public officers in all commanding heights of leadership yawns at globally acclaimed open public administration sustained by Nigeria public law. Assets declaration devoid of publication has no relevance for the citizens and declaration without verification on the part of the bureau is a constitutional breach.
The omnibus privity in the declaration and litigation process encourages the bureau to bureaucratize the process of investigation cum publication by effectively frustratingthird party intervention. Good enough, where applicants can establish public interest in their request, by the provision of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, access may be allowed to assets declared.
The refusal of public officers to publish assets is far more injustice than privacy invasion. An effective assets declaration must be reduced to periodic publication. In a ubiquitous search for good leadership, the government must guarantee freedom to examine the record of officials, encourage investigation and make public a report or comments. On the part of the governed, they must ensure that they complement the government in verification of assets declared and also ensure that trustee lives within a genuine means of livelihood as required by law so as to enhance the overall development of the state.
For assets declaration to be accessed easily it must be codified in digital form. This means that information can be accessed not just on manual record but also on digital or electronic templatewith unique identifying number. Officers of iniquity are ahead of the analogue assets declaration mechanism.
By section 2 of Freedom of Information Act 2011, public institutions are to maintain information about public officials working with them. Files are sometimes lost in the registry of the code of conduct bureau and staff may find it cumbersome to sort out files in their custody for verification. The reporting system is the starting point for a case of breach of the code and the procedure needs to be simplified. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is required to regulate assets declaration for easy publication. Electronic declaration of assets will effortlessly aid request.
This will enable the assets of public officers to be posted on the Bureau’s website. Critics may suggest that applicants can handle files without even knowing the address or visiting the bureau, meaning assets publication may compromise confidentiality of information. There may also be the threat of creating phony e-declarations. ICT goes with its attendant benefits in time and money alongside the threat of manipulation. The threats can be overpowered, after all, a record of accounts and payroll for various public officers are managed on the computer. Electronic declaration of assets may be the best highlight for assets publication because it will assist complainant reporting system which is the starting point for a case of breach of the code.
The bureau is under a constitutional duty to release contents of assets declaration formsof public officers’ including the one of the new sheriff in town without a prior authourisation of the declarant. In the year 2011, the constitutional Tribunal of Peru expanded public access to the assets declaration of government officials. The court stated that upon request by the public, assets declaration should be disclosed.
The court added that any person in a public office has lost his right to privacy in transit. Similarly, the timing of disclosure is immediately the declaration is made and when the bureau or the public officer deems fit. In the United States for instance, public gets access to the document of declaration within 30 days of receipt of the declaration.
In Latvia, all information about high ranking officials including the chief judge, speaker is published in the official gazette without request. Taking a cue from other countries where public access to assets declaration is allowed on fulfilling some conditions like paying a reasonable fee in processing or a reproduction of the report or for mailing it. Assets declaration should be published voluntarily in national dailies, especially as regards the assets of senior members of the executive, legislative and the Judiciary.
The overriding allegation of corruption should pacify the definition of public interest. There should be an official mandate to invade privacy of an official tainted with corruption. Public officers must give account to the people. The peoples’ assessment is on service above self. The nexus is adopting an ethical process in an official decision-making circle of governance.
A private individual that has a service or representative contract with the government has a moral and legal duty to publish his asset profile for the benefit of the public. No public officer is paid to act of his/her personal agenda. The court as a public institution must assist public interest to outweigh mere courtesy.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal should be renamed Anti-Corruption Court and upgraded to the status of a superior court of record with the responsibility of handling only corruption cases from the proposed merger of investigative bodies like EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau. There is a need for a special court to try all forms of financial crimes. The remedy for fiscal sanity is in the bowel of a specialized court and procedure. This will promote knowledge, timeousness, training and coherence.
The case of a special court to expedite proceedings and attain the ends of justice is unassailable. The challenge before the proposed special court would be to define the boundaries of corruption related offences to be brought before it. Corruption is too specialized to be handled by an unspecialized court or tribunal. An effort to foist a distinct judicial arm to pronounce on the plethora of anti -graft legislations will produce overt patriotic fervor. Special court can fortify the moral conscience of majority of public officers. Venality can be lost on every public officer if the court is deciphered along the sentiment of jurisdictional gerrymandering.
Much effort has been made by the Governments to make laws aimed at regulating the people, rather than involving the people during the making of the laws. For the fight against corruption to be won, the government must embrace the wishes and desire of the people in formulating policies. The culture of corruption is so established that existing provisions of the law need not only be enforced, but also demand constant decision of creative means of reshaping people to confirm to collective means and morals. The pleas that have made progress in assets disclosure models have done so because the checks and balances of social contracts are operated to the hilt.
Assets declaration is only worthwhile were Code of Conduct Bureau is empowered to probe peoples’ claim diligently. The bureau is a consequence of decades of deliberate weakening to enable acts of corruption to proceed unhindered.It will surprise everyone that the only court that can address breach of the code is the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the complainant can only be made by the bureau. So when the bureau is mute the breach continues and this accounts for the towering rate of venality, conflict of interest, cultism, private business in public service.
In this new administration, the bureau must be all out to check this unwholesome act of ambulatory declaration by energizing the verification department of the organization. Assets Marshalls should be deployed to investigate declarations made before it is approved. National Orientation Agency should lead the sensitization unit of the proposed open assets declaration model.
The standards under which disclosure will be granted is made clear in Freedom of Information Act 2011. The bureau must stop loose criteria in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and disclose voluntarily when requested to so do. This inadvertently will reduce expensive law suits to secure disclosure.
The code partially prohibits public officers from engaging in private business or trade. There is a window of opportunity in farming and it is unequivocally allowed in the code. Farming by a public officer should be encouraged as a way of augmenting the officers’ wages and should attract compulsory agricultural loan for public officers. Public officers that excel in farming should also be awarded.
It is surprising that many low rank public officers collect pittance monthly and yet have enormous properties that cannot be justified. The result is the drain of public fund by public officers and the only way the state can tame it is by a genuine declaration, publication and verification of assets. Assets publication will reduce the incidence of corruption and this will in turn prevent the citizens from the neighborhood noise of generators that absence of the good supply of electricity forces us to endure.
Continual publication of assets will undoubtedly strengthen the defence against domestic corruption and meltdown conflict of interest as secrecy of public officers diminishes dividend accrue to the public and also creates an impression that something is wrong. Assets publication is material for accurate public scrutiny of any public officer. This is the only available avenue to place remuneration side by side with properties acquired or inherited to review the credibility of public officers
It takes more than a surgery to separate public officers from corruption. The media can complement the NOA in sensitising the public of the expected level of responsibility and accountability. But first, the media must itself have a good grasp of the code of media practice and the implication of each item to the conduct of government business. The guiding framework for conduct in public office is only the starting point of influencing the behavior of public officers.
Community based organisations (CBO) should come up with an annual evaluation of compliance with the code of conduct in the country, but first must enrich public understanding of how assets publication will tame graft and develop new policy ideas and advocacy strategy to building a new public service. A new sense of public service that speaks about how public officers should conduct themselves and contribute to the making of a good society, a new public service where value and honesty is spelt out as a guidepost to service and performance. A new public service that remains green even when the officers are gone.
The CBO’s must stimulate probing conversations in various communities on ethical goals and clear focus on public officers’ ethics. This should be embedded into peoples’ orientation strategy for the fight against venality since many corruption perception studies persistently show a high degree of mistrust by the public of their government. Adoption ofopen assets declaration model explains leadership that saw his trust sliding into the grave of self- annihilation on the account of corruption and tried to do something about it.