Although the National Assembly claims that the majority of lawmakers are complying with their asset declaration responsibilities, such declarations continue to be hidden from the public from scrutiny.
This is despite the fact that taxpayers pay millions to maintain the lifestyles of lawmakers annually.
Permanent Secretary of the National Assembly Lydia Kandetu, while responding to questions this week, said the absence of asset declarations does not impact the work of the National Assembly.
Asset declarations by Member of Parliaments (MPs) is a key requirement. But for the last eight years, the asset register of parliamentarians has not been made public for scrutiny.
The date as to when the register will be made public remains a misery. The last time it was availed for public consumption was in 2009.
Kandetu said most MPs have declared their assets without being “reminded” to do so.
“It is essential to note that overall, the members of the National Assembly are complying with the Asset Declaration without waiting to be reminded and we hope the that this trend continues during the course of 2018,” states Kandetu.
The National Assembly secretariat has fallen prey to critics who accuse it of being indecisive when it comes to holding MPs to account as far as asset declarations are concerned. Some claim that the fact that the register is kept under wraps raises red flags on the levels of accountability within the legislature.
Kandetu, however, distanced NA’s secretariat from holding MPs to account in this regards saying: “The secretariat is not responsible for the accountability of the declaration of assets of the Members of Parliament.”
To date, parliament is without an auditing system for the declarations made by MPs.
This means the secretariat and the accuracy of the asset declaration register is pinned solely on the honesty of MPs.
To partly address this enigma, parliament is formulating a system through which members of the public can access information pertaining to MPs’ assets.
“We are busy building a system that will make information accessible via the website of the National Assembly. The form is very clear and once the exercise to construct the information is complete, the website will be populated. The public will be informed accordingly,” Kandetu said.
According to Kandetu, the absence of asset declarations by MPs has zero impact on the work of Parliament.
“The (absence of) declaration does not impact the work of the National Assembly as the Members of Parliament are fulfilling their constitutional mandate,” she said.
Kandetu’s responses come at the back of 2016 the Register of Members’ Interest document dominated by “nothing to disclose” by some long serving MPs.
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.
According to studies, effective income and asset declaration helps prevent the abuse of power; reduces corruption and increase public accountability and legitimises the government.
Researchers have found that countries where wealth disclosure is combined with content verification and public access to declarations, corruption levels are lower.
Research further indicate sthat an asset declaration open to public scrutiny enables citizens to ensure that leaders do not abuse their power for self-enrichment.
It is common knowledge nowadays that politics has become a stepping stone to wealth creation as most politicians and their cronies tend to benefit greatly from state tenders and contracts.
“It is our time to eat now”, is a phrase commonly used by local politicians.
As a consequence, public interest in the wealth acquisition of politicians dictates that they declare their assets for scrutiny.
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 to list a few.
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.