At least 2 000 public officers, including two Cabinet ministers and eight members of Parliament, are yet to declare their assets over five months after expiry of the deadline.
The development has forced Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) to recommend that the defaulters be named and shamed through the media, after noting that those who defaulted last year were left scot-free.
PAC, which oversees the operations of the Office of the Director of Public Officers’ Declarations, has directed that the office publishes names of 2 000 officers by December 20 2019, hoping that the naming and shaming will improve compliance.
In a telephone interview last Friday, director for the assets declaration office Christopher Tukula, who presented a report to PAC on Tuesday last week, said they will go by the committee’s direction to publish the names.
But Tukula, said over 12 000 listed officers had complied with the law while 2 000 others are yet to declare their assets and liabilities.
He said, with PAC’s approval, the next step is to write all concerned officers to hear from them within 30 days.
Section 14 of the Public Officers Declarations Act provides that every listed public officer makes a declaration not later than three months after assuming his or her duties and those in service are required to make an annual declaration update within 30 days after the commencement of each fiscal year.
He said his office is developing notices which will be sent to concerned officers and those who fail to provide reasonable cause will be recommended for dismissal in line with Section 18 of the Act.
The Act reads: “A listed public officer who, without reasonable cause, fails to submit the required declaration within the time determined by this Act shall, subject to the Constitution and any other written law, be liable to be dismissed from the public office”.
Last year, the declaration office recommended dismissal of six lawmakers—Grace Chiumia, George Chaponda, Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, Willard Gwengwe, Henry Mpofu and Davies Kadzinja—for failure to declare their assets during the 2016/2017 financial year.
Chiumia was a Cabinet minister and the assets declaration office had written President Peter Mutharika to dismiss her for breaching the law, but the President, though admitting to have received a communication, ignored the recommendation as did the Speaker of Parliament.
Asked on how significant the recommendation for dismissal is in view of employers’ non-compliance, Tukula said they are recommending for law reform to have employers respect its recommendation.
“We are recommending for law reform that the decisions of the directorate should be mandatory and there should be penalties for employers [controlling officers] who fail to comply with our orders. Currently, the law only talks about penalties for defaulters and not non-compliant employers,” he added.
But, Tukula, while expressing frustration with employers who ignore their recommendation, indicated that the law in its present form empowers the monitoring committee of Parliament to take any appropriate action against on this committee. defaulters; hence, they bank hope
“The law says where the committee receives a report of non-compliance, the committee can take any appropriate action. So, we feel that under the general powers of the committee, they can take any appropriate action to sanctioning whoever may not have complied with the recommendation that we may have made.
“The ideal situation would have been that orders of the directorate be mandatory. They should not give room to anybody not complying with the orders,” he said.
While refusing to name those who are yet to declare, Tukula indicated that political appointed public officers, though fewer in number compared to civil servants, are by percentage many on the defaulters’ list, and oftentimes accuse the directorate of being militant and lacking respect when they push for declaration.
It is this scenario that has left the office frustrated and now seeking the support of the monitoring committee to ensure that this time there is enforcement of the recommendation.
PAC chairperson Collins Kajawa, said they are in support of the recommendation and will do their part to ensure compliance, including summoning employers or controlling officers of institutions that will fail to dismiss any listed defaulter.
“We will subpoena defaulters to appreciate why they are disrespecting the law. Secondly, we encourage the directorate to refer them to appropriate institutions such as ACB so that they get investigated because there could more behind the abrogation of responsibility,” said Kajawa.
The PAC chair said their interim decision is to have all defaulters published for the nation to appreciate people behind pulling down the system by dodging transparency and accountability mechanisms. He argued that failure to declare assets is an indication that “some people have excess luggage worth investigating”.
Kajawa and his committee also agree on the need to strengthen the current law which only required a few public officers to declare their assets. Apart from political speakership, Cabinet minister and members of Parliament, the law only requires senior civil servants to declare their assets from the level of the director.offices such as the presidency,
It, however, requires some specific offices, depending on the nature of their job to declare assets such as the road traffic directorate, immigration officers and all accounts and procurement officers
The MPs, during an interface with the directorate, observed that this was a weakness because corruption was widespread across the strata; both junior and senior officers were involved as evidenced by cashgate cases; hence the need for the law to reach out to all.
“Talking to my colleague at ACB [Director General] I am told they register more complaints on land related issues. Land is one area which has been prone to corruption but land officers are not part of listed public officers to declare their assets. This should indeed be looked into. While it may not be practical to target all – ranks such as messengers, secretaries may be skipped for now but we agree that we expand the coverage”
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 account and name of the banking institutions.
Political scientist Henry Chingaipe said the assets declaration office was unique because it is Parliament that has control over it and not the Executive hence it is likely to act more independently.
According to Chingaipe, if the directorate is not performing, it could be a reflection of Parliament’s failure to do it job.
Records show that the directorate targets about 15 000 public officers.
And in 2014, when they had just resumed operations, 10 400 public officers had made their declarations, a number which rose to 12 220 in 2016.
Last year, 13 628 declared their assets and liabilities, with about 1 520 defaulting, a figure which has increased to 2 000 this year.
The fear is if no one is taken to task for defaulting many will see no reason to comply hence the defaulters list may continue to grow.