The exercise to have elected and public officers declare their assets is facing compliance challenges, especially from junior public officers, thousands of whom are yet to declare their wealth despite the impending December deadline.
Director of the Office of Directorate of Public Assets Declaration Chris Tukula disclosed in an interview on Friday that while politicians are “at least doing well” in the declaration of assets, government officers, especially at a junior level, have not yet started declaring their assets.
Initially, all listed officers were expected to disclose their assets by September 31, 2014— in compliance with the Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests Act that was enacted in 2013 in reaction to the massive looting of public funds christened Cashgate.
But the office of declaration of assets became effective with the appointment of Tukula as the director; hence, the deadline for the declarations was shifted to December 31, 2014.
However, with only less than 50 days to go to the deadline, Tukula expressed reservations on progress of the exercise, saying the declarations are trickling in slowly, not as expected.
Tukula also expressed worry that as the deadline approaches, his office which currently has two permanent staff—the director and his deputy—will be overwhelmed by declaration forms and may not cope.
“We are working with temporary staff from Parliament; we expect to employ our own staff because people are also expressing concerns about the safety of the information regarding their assets.
“We have also noted that people are shocked at the 36-page forms. They had a wrong perception of the document; they thought it was an easy document,” he said.
At the time of the interview, Tukula disclosed that 30 percent of the forms that were submitted to his office were sent back to owners because they could not meet the requirements specified in the Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests Act.
“Most of the forms were sent back to officers because they were simply generalising the assets.
“The requirement is that once an item has been mentioned in the declaration of assets, evidence of existence must be proved. If it is a car, it has to be properly identified; if it is property, it has to be properly identified with title deeds and other related documents. This will help us to verify the existence of the assets mentioned,” he said.
The director also said valuation of the assets is also slowing down the process as some officers do not know the actual value of their property.
“We are receiving questions like ‘who is going to foot the bills for valuation of officer’s property?” said Tukula, who noted that politicians are leading in the declaration of assets, seconded by senior public officers while parastatal executive officers and junior public officers have not been compliant.
President Peter Mutharika and his deputy Saulos Chilima are said to have already declared their assets.
Chief Secretary in the Office of President and Cabinet George Mkondiwa admitted that the public officers are slow in completing the declaration of assets forms, saying it might be because they are doing so for the first time.
“Politicians are leading because they have done this before. We have a lot of questions; there are a lot of areas that we did not understand. We are filling the forms slowly,” he said.
Mkondiwa said principal secretaries and ministry directors had a meeting at Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) recently where they raised concerns about the forms.
“The directorate assured us that they will explain the grey areas…We are going to meet the deadline,” he said.
The 2013 Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests Act states that a listed public officer who, without reasonable cause, fails to submit the required declaration within the required time shall be liable to be dismissed from the public office, among other punishments.
Also punishable will be a listed public officer who files a declaration which the public officer knows or believes to be inaccurate or misleading, or does not believe to be true.
“[Such an officer] commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of K500 000 and imprisonment for two years and shall be dismissed from public office,” reads the Act, in part.
Some of the assets to be declared include those in which the member or any member of his immediate family has full or part ownership interest.
The declaration also includes information about the assets’ location, the date of acquisition, the amount paid for the property, the current valuation of the asset and, where possible, the contact details of the person or entity from whom the asset was acquired.