Malawi: MPs Want Assets Office Given Teeth to Bite Non-Compliant Officers

12 December 2019

Members of Parliament (MPs) under the Parliamentary Appointments Committee (PAC) have resolved to lobby fellow legislators to push for the review of statutes guiding the operations of the Office of the Directorate of Public Officers Declarations (ODPOD), saying unless it is given teeth to bite, the annual exercise requiring public officers to declare their assets, will just be repetitive with lawbreakers walking scot-free.

Tukula addressing the Parliamentary Appointments Committee at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe on Tuesday-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times Kajawa: We need to give ODPOD powers to sanction non-compliant listed public officers-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times A cross-section of the MPs that attended the orientation workshop-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times The winning team: ODPOD staff and management pose for a photo after the meeting with the MPs at Gold Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe on Tuesday-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times ODPOD officials and MPs pose for a group photo after the interaction at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe on Tuesday-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

The Appointments Committee, which also doubles as the Monitoring Committee, says, while the Office has demonstrated high level of expertise and professionalism in discharging its duties since it rolled out its operations in 2014, the existing statutes have tended to limit its powers on non-compliant listed public officers.

They made the observations during an orientation workshop, which the ODPOD organised for the committee in Lilongwe on Tuesday.

The Parliamentary Appointments Committee chairperson, Collins Kajawa, stated that the committee has observed with sadness that some influential listed public officers and politicians had been defying the order from ODPOD to declare their assets.

"The current ODPOD Act does not give the office powers to prosecute. We believe that this is one of the major reasons some have been defying these orders because they know that the Office cannot go beyond making recommendations that an action should be taken by the appointing authority on non-compliant officers," said Kajawa.

He added: "So, as a Committee, we think it is important that we amend the ODPOD Act so that we give the Office powers beyond making recommendations, but should now start prosecuting as well where some have chosen not to comply. That way, we will be able to deal with the problem of non-compliance among listed public officers and others connected to them."

Ntcheu West legislator Simon Simeon Salambula said reviewing and amending the statutes and guiding principles of the ODPOD would help the institution perform its mandated duty, which is to contribute to the fight against corruption and fraud among public and civil servants.

Salambula therefore urged fellow MPs to rise above political party interests and support the call for statutory review.

"This is not a matter of discussion on who should support this or not. We all need this statutory review so that Malawians can get the best service from the Office," he said.

In his remarks, the Director of ODPOD, Christopher Tukula, said his office has managed to mobilise up to 12, 000 declarations since they rolled up their programmes.

Tukula described this as a huge milestone in the declarations sector, especially coming from a situation where the public could not trace assets of ministers and the President.

"As an institution, we have managed to mobilise 12,000 declarations. We are coming from situation where members of the press could not access information on the assets of the President and Cabinet ministers. But we are able to do that. So, as an institution, we are contributing to the transparency and governance that the Constitution talks about by providing an access to these declarations," he said.

"Members of the public can come and access these declarations. More importantly, law enforcement agencies like the Auditor General, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Fiscal Police are coming to access these declrations whenever they are investigating someone whose declarations are in our custody," Tukula stated.

Commenting on the meeting with the MPs, Tukula said under the scheme of the law that establishes the Office, there is a direct reporting line of the ODPOD to the Monitoring Committee on Assets Declaration.

He said it is a legal requirement that all our reports should be submitted to this committee for assessment.

"And since we had elections earlier this year, we have not had the opportunity to meet this committee. So, it was a very important meeting in the sense that it was the first ever meeting with this committee after the election. And we wanted to meet the committee and share with them an institutional report, updating them on what has happened, so far. As you have noted, some of the members in that committee are new to the committee; and indeed, some of them are new to parliament," he explained.

Tukula stressed the need to review the Public Officer's Declaration of Assets Liabilities and Business Interests Act (2013), to give the directorate more enforcement powers.

Under the current law, the directorate only recommends dismissal of errant officers to the appointing authority.

Section 15 (e) of the assets law obliges public office holders, their immediate family members and associates to declare their full financial status by disclosing details such as bank accounts, the location of the accounts and names of the banking institutions.

The section also requires full disclosure of any other asset the official or any member of his or her immediate family has financed, owns in any other name other than his or her own and description of the asset, its location, date of acquisition, amount paid for the asset, its current valuation, and name or names in which the asset is held or owned.

Failing to declare assets is a criminal offence punishable by two years imprisonment, according to the law.

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