Nearly half of the public officers designated to declare assets are yet to update their declared assets and liabilities, prompting the Office of the Director of Public Officers Declarations to threaten that they risk prosecution or dismissal.
Under the law, public officers are supposed to update records of their assets and liabilities each financial year. The period for making the updates is between July 1 and 31.
There were about 10 400 declarants last year, but nearly one month after the period of updating the records, only 6 000 have submitted updates.
The most compliant public officers to update their records have been those holding political offices such as the President and Vice-President, Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament (MPs), according to director of Public Officers Declaration Christopher Tukula.
Failure to declare assets within the prescribed period attracts dismissal from office upon recommendation of the Office of the Director of Public Officers Declarations while public officers who submit inaccurate or false information face conviction and disqualification from holding any public office for seven years, according to Section 21 of the Declaration of Assets Act.
Section 18 (1) of the Act states: “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.”
In an interview yesterday, Tukula said his office has noted non-compliance, especially among mainstream civil servants to submit information for scrutiny.
Tukula said defaulters will be named and shamed after the office finishes sorting the updated declaration lists.
“Those who will not have declared after this date will incur sanctions which include dismissal after disciplinary hearing and criminal prosecution because the office will refer the matter to the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] and Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] in line with the law,” he warned.
Tukula said the tough approach will be undertaken to drive across the point that “declarations are not made for Tukula’s benefit, but to be transparent and accountable to Malawians”.
However, he commended politicians and public officers from parastatals as the most compliant unlike the wider public service.
The office of the Public Officers Declarations has since engaged principal secretaries for a comprehensive list of officers who were expected to comply with the requirement before putting notices of those who have not declared their assets.
However, much as the office of the Public Officers Declarations would like to monitor compliance and act on defaulters, it is operating with a skeletal staff following the recruitment freeze in the government which was effected in the last financial year.
Tukula said the directorate, with assistance from the Department of Human Resource Management and Development, is conducting a functional review on the optimal staff establishment and organisational structure.
Another challenge is that according to law, the directorate runs a manual declaration system which is resource intensive as the office processes a lot of paperwork internally.
The directorate is also spending a lot of money on the verification exercise which requires officers to travel across the country and engage expert analysts.
In the 2016/17 National Budget, the directorate has been allocated K472 million which will enable them to verify only 200 declarations against the 11 500 expected to be received, according to the assets declarations programme.
Tukula said the funding is about half of what is needed to run a normal operation of this nature to international standard.
“Without funding the asset declaration function cannot register meaningful impact towards the country’s quest for a comprehensive anti- corruption drive,” he said.
Malawi introduced the assets declaration law among public officers to check against abuse of office and accumulation of wealth through dubious means.