25 March 2019

Sierra Leone: ACC Boss Kicks Against Public Declaration of Assets

Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has spoken strongly against the notion that the declaration of assets by public officers should be made public.

According to Francis Ben Kaifala, even though it was their desire to see that asset declaration is made public, they would have to make sure the process is supported by serious social debate, data, research and a confirmation that it is the best practice around the world.

"We look everywhere from Uganda and other countries around the world, including the west, we found out that it is a need base publication. When the act said asset declaration should be in private and in secret, there is a rationale behind it. If we want to dispose of it, it has to be supported by certain research and evidence," Francis Ben Kaifala said.

He was responding to questions raised around the public declaration of assets during a symposium organised by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel on the topic; "Promoting sustainable national development: making accountability meaningful for effective service delivery".

There have been calls from members of the public and civil society organizations for an amendment to the ACC Act, so that assets declared by public officials will be made public.

President Julius Maada Bio promised Sierra Leoneans that when he assumed office, he will declare his assets and liabilities publicly but unfortunately, it was done in secret.

The ACC Act makes provision for the confidentiality of the declaration of assets in Subsection 13, which reads, "Subject to this Act, the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Directors and other persons having an official duty under this Act, or being employed in the administration of this Act, shall deal with all documents and information, and all other matters relating to a declaration under this Part, as secret and confidential, except where a particular declaration or record is required to be produced for the purpose of, or in connection with any court proceedings against, or inquiry in respect of a declarant under this Act, the Commissions of Inquiry."

Commissioner Kaifala stated that as it stands now, it is the position of the commission, having looked at the issue critically, that declaration of assets publicly was not the best practice around the world and not supported by statistics.

He said people's privacy cannot be exposed to unnecessary scrutiny just because the public was calling for it, adding that it has to be supported by certain needs.

"Asset declaration regime in Sierra Leone goes with declaring the assets of not only the public officer but his/her spouse and all dependents. Even though it was considered at the time, it has not survived," he stated.

He opined that he had always challenged the civil society to come out with a research which shows that public officials declaring their asset publicly is the standard all over the world and the best practice.

He added that such a research would have allowed the commission to build a strong case and take on the political elite with it.

"As our democracy grows, it is possible that sometime in our history, we would have matured to a degree where it is safe for such issue of privacy to be overcome by the public desire and I don't believe that time is now," the Commissioner added.

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