Assets Declaration: Why The Fear?

As part of the country’s efforts to combat corrupt practice by which people in public service amass wealth dishonestly through the misuse of public resources and funds, Liberia has set up institutions such as the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC). Specifically, for the LACC, among other things, is also mandated to ensure that public service officials declare their assets, which is principally geared towards ensuring what those in the public sector had before what they have now and what they may have tomorrow. Regrettably and disappointingly, the LACC is encountering problem in this exercise as some of these officials are egregiously refusing to declare their assets, while others are said to be providing ‘false’ information about their assets. As a result of this, the LACC is said to be seriously concerned about these kinds of unwholesome tactics, and has accordingly released a report on the matter.

In its account of the LACC’s report, this paper, with headline:” NPA BOSS, OTHERS HOOKED,” written by Morrison O.G. Sayon reported that:”The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has released its first Assets Declaration Verification report verifying the assets disclosures of 63 officials from seven government institutions. Addressing a major news conference yesterday in Monrovia, LACC boss, Frances Johnson-Allison said the report covers the Ministries of Finance, Public Works, Health & Social Welfare, Internal Affairs, National Port Authority (NPA), Liberia Maritime Authority, and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.”

In the report, Madam Allison disclosed that the findings are divided in five categories that include officials whose AD (Assets Declaration) process was completed and for whom the LACC has joined issues; officials who deliberately decided not to cooperate with the Commission’s team despite notices to them to appear before it; officials who sent in written excuses based on individual peculiar circumstances; officials whose AD process could not be completed within the time frame due to outstanding issues still unresolved as at the time of the report and officials whose AD were verified and certified as truthfully declared.

Furthermore, according to the report, in the findings, LACC booked Madam Oretha Zeon, Operation Manager of the Port of Buchanan for intentional and material misrepresentation and unexplained wealth accumulation. The Commission booked NPA boss, Matilda Parker for intentional misrepresentation, intentional and material misrepresentation and unexplained wealth accumulation, Charles Gono of the Liberia Maritime Authority for unexplained wealth accumulation and Blayon Brown Sarlee, Comptroller at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. LACC said officials who deliberately refused to cooperate with the Commission’s team include, Deputy Financial Minister, Sabastian Muah, Christian G. Herbert Deputy Minister of Public Works, Etweda Cooper Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, among others.

“LACC said whose AD process could not be completed within the reporting time frame due to outstanding issues yet to be resolved according to Madam Allison include, Sam Foday Brown, Superintendent of Bomi County, Samuel Kofi Woods, Minister of Public Works, Stephen, Yekeson Deputy Minister of Public Works, Varney Sirleaf Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Blamo Nelson, former Minister of Internal Affairs, Vivian Cherue, Deputy Minister of Health among others. Chairman Allison said officials who sent in written excuses on each individual peculiar circumstance include, Ranney B. Jackson, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; Neneh Kroyahn Financial manager, Maritime Authority and Amara B. Konneh, Minister of Finance.”

According to the LACC boss, the Assets Declaration exercise is one of the most important tools in the fight against corruption. Madam Allison said the LACC takes this aspect of its mandate very seriously and will continue to superintend the process of collection, storage, administration and verification, and that  the verification process is necessary followed by sanctions for persons who choose to misinform the LACC and lied under oath and for those caught with unexplained wealth. She threatened that individuals who lied under oath after acquiring unexplained wealth and made intentional and material misrepresentation will be prosecuted for perjuries, stating that the Commission has the right to either prosecute them or complain them to their bosses to be turned over for prosecution.

Frankly, the LACC boss is right that assets declaration is one of the most important tools in the fight against corruption, therefore, it is incumbent upon those who are to declare their assets to do so as misrepresentation, and concealment and perjury are all counter-productive to this good exercise. In fact, it is in the interest of those who fall in such category  do so because of the perception people hold about public officials who they believe only get to  public life to “steal’ and that everything they acquired were through dishonest and dubious means. This is why it is necessary that public officials cooperate in this process to set the record for today and tomorrow. Conversely, to do anything otherwise the intent of this, would only suggest the issue of a “hidden agenda,”‘ meaning that those who are not cooperating had these assets through dishonest or questionable means.

I am not an authority in the field of accounting, but my little knowledge in bookkeeping as a vacation school student in D. Tweh High School, taught me about the issue of assets and liabilities. The layman meaning of assets is what one owns. One book defines assets as “the entire property of a person.’ Another said, ‘it is financial resources, which means, wealth, money and cashable possession (loosely) cash property, effects, possession, money, belongings and capital money.”

According to research, an advanced meaning of assets states that they are economic resources. Anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value and that is held to have positive economic value considered an asset. Simply stated, assets represent value of ownership that can be converted into cash, although cash itself is also considered as an asset.

Again, as I stated, I am not an authority in this field, but looking at this at a layman’s view, assets are what one owns. There should be no fear in this matter. Any fear or uncooperative attitude towards this will only suggest one thing; and that is that those assets were not acquired through honest means and that an individual is involved in dubious deals and does not want to expose them. Why is it that someone who acquires assets honestly and legally would be afraid to make them known. This is nothing about privacy. The public has the right to know.

People venturing into public life should know that once one decides to go into public life, it means that individual has consciously agreed to surrender some of his rights, especially as it relates to privacy. Hence, let those concerned cooperate with LACC as this is important for the country’s fight against corruption. Additionally, it is also intended to promote accountability, transparency and financial probity.

Once more, only those with ill-gotten wealth, possessions, properties and money, just to name a few, should be fraught with trepidation as this will expose their misdeeds. But all in all, the exercise is good, even, for those in public life for today and tomorrow. I rest my case.