Asset declaration: Holding lawmaker to account
The 2016 Register of Members’ Interest is a curious document dominated by “nothing to disclose”, and some interesting changes in assets from the previous years by some of the long serving members.
Politicians and civil servants hold substantial power over the allocation of resources in their countries and the citizens who elect them, and who in effect pay their salaries through their tax contributions.
At least some of what is stated in the document raises questions: one just needs to look at some of the inconsistent declarations by the country’s lawmakers.
Unlike their colleagues at the National Assembly, the National Council secretariat constantly breathes down on the necks of MPs pushing them to submit their annual declarations for public scrutiny.
In 2016, all National Council lawmakers submitted their declarations. The 2017 declarations is expected to be released soon as well.
MPs are expected to disclose their shares and other financial interests; directorships, partnerships and board memberships; sole ownership; remunerated employment outside of parliament; liabilities exceeding N$20 000; immovable property; accounts with financial institutions exceeding N$20 000; travel discounts; gifts; sponsorship; consultancies; pensions and any other material benefits.
At least seven of the 42 National Council MPs had absolutely nothing to declare.
So far, parliament does not have a system of auditing the declarations made by MPs. This means the secretariat and the accuracy of the asset declaration register depends solely on the honesty of MPs.
But what has been disclosed raises questions, particularly if compared to the previous years. Swapo’s parliamentarian David Boois, who is also the councillor for Berseba, in the 2014 section on shares and financial interests declared that he had 11 929 shares in company called Southern Hake as well as 8% in another firm called Kaiseb Fishing.
In 2016, Boois’ shares decreased to 11 000 while his shares in Kaiseb Fishing increased to 12%.
In 2014 Boois failed to declare four accounts that he has with financial institutions.
In the 2014 declarations he only declared his two cheque accounts with Standard Bank and Bank Windhoek respectively.
But in his 2016 declarations, it is listed that he has three home loan accounts opened in 2007, 2013 and 2014 with FNB, Bank Windhoek and Agribank respectively.
Rather interestingly, in 2014 Boois declared that he owns an immovable property acquired in 2007 in Keetmanshoop on Erf 1141. But in his 2016 declarations, the Erf 1141 is not indicated. The register instead shows that he owns Erf 1411 in Keetmanshoop that he acquired in 2008.
Boois also receives the monthly government old-age grant.
He is one of the many connected individuals from the south involved in the fishing sector, while the ordinary people often complain that they do not have access to such privileges.
For years, and as recent as 2014, MP Rosa Kavara had shares in three companies, in addition to two others of which she was the sole owner.
In her 2014 declaration, Kavara had shares in Sintunga T.T(1000 shares), Harambe C.S(500 shares) and Kaza Food S.(50 shares) that were acquired between 2011 and 2013. At the time she also indicated that she owns a catering company called Ngorungwana and another company called Mulimina Farm on which she deals with cattle and crops.
Apart from the farm, all the declarations have disappeared from the 2016 register where the section on shares and other financial interests simply show “nothing to disclose”. The catering company was also not cited during the 2016 declarations.
The private residence in Kavango which she acquired in 2013 and declared under the immovable property section did not form part of her 2016 declarations.
Linyanti Constituency Councillor Cletius Sipapela declared in 2014 that he is the sole owner of Dorado Farm where he farms with cattle.
In 2016, Sipapela indicated that he had nothing to disclose under the ownership section. This could, of course, indicate that the property might have been sold or simply handed over to a new owner.
Long serving council Bernard Sibalatani, unlike in 2014 when he declared that 50 shares in Trustco, the 2016 register shows that he obtained a further 3200 shares.
National Council chairperson Margareth Mensah-Williams is the only MP who declared any gifts received. This comes as a surprise seeing that politicians are often flooded with gifts at events that they attend.
She declared in 2014 and 2016 that she received an Ipad from a Chinese delegation.
Others, according to available records, did not receive a single gift despite having travelled extensively to various events locally, even internationally.
Unlike her 2014 declarations which included three liabilities exceeding N$20 000, the 2016 version states “nothing to disclose”.
Her Academia property still features as declared in 2014.
Other lawmakers seem to have fallen on tough times. They had nothing to disclose under all 13 sections.
These are Melania Ndjago, Ambrosius Kandjii, Gerhard Shiimi, Joseph Mupetami, Hans Linekela Nambondi, Fransina Ghauz and Laina Mekundi.
An effective income and asset declaration regime can help prevent abuse of power, reduce corruption and increase public accountability, public trust in institutions and government legitimacy.
Research findings indicate that in countries where wealth disclosure is combined with content verification and public access to declarations are significantly associated with lower perceived levels of corruption.
In Africa, the scope, coverage and level of enforcement of asset declaration laws vary from country to country, according to the local context, political situation and capacity to manage such schemes.
This simply implies that they do not own any property or businesses or their assets are not registered in their names.
The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which has been ratified by 166 countries, requires a legal framework for asset declarations of government officials. Research shows that an asset declaration open to public scrutiny is a way for citizens to ensure leaders do not abuse their power for personal gain (our definition of corruption).
Asset declarations are a means to anchor the issue of ethics and integrity in the political classes and should be part of all codes of conduct.
In line with parliamentarians’ code of conduct, the register is the annual disclosure of parliamentarians’ shares, financial interests, directorships, gifts over a certain threshold, sponsorships, property and the like.