Tue 8th Mar 2005
The signing in December 2003 of the UN Convention against Corruption, the result of a three-year effort by 129 countries, reflects a global consensus on the need for an international legal system to fight corruption. Concern for improved standards of governance, transparency, and accountability is now spreading across the globe. In many countries citizens groups are holding their governments to account. In Bangladesh, Transparency International's national chapter has initiated the formation of Committees of Concerned Citizens, which rate services and lobby for reform where service delivery is perceived to be failing.
SVG Green Party advocates a greater system of transparency within government in SVG and as part of that policy would seek to introduce a policy of disclosure of income and assets for members of government and people in senior public jobs. Disclosure is an important issue of concern. Disclosure requirements permit the establishment of information concerning the income and changes in wealth of individuals while they hold public office, either as elected representatives or other senior government officials. While some elementary provisions regarding disclosure are often included in Conflict of Interest Laws and Codes of Ethics, it might be useful to have specific and focused legislation on this subject.
PURPOSE - The purpose of introducing legislation for disclosure of income and assets for public office bearers are to: • provide the basis for monitoring the wealth of individuals in public office. • increase accountability on actions of public office bearers and reduce the chances of involvement in, or encouragement to, corrupt practices in the public offices they manage.
LINKAGE TO TRANSPARENCY - Disclosure of income and assets is an important step in building accountability of public office-bearers to the community. Provision of such information, therefore, can be vital for the enhancement of transparency and increased trust between governmental and non-governmental bodies and the citizens.
HOW IT WORKS - THE KEY ELEMENTS - The following principles are important in seeking and securing effective disclosure of income and assets:
• Information requested should be not only for the office holder, but also for members of his or her immediate family.
• There should be sanctions for deliberate failure to provide accurate information.
• Resources should be allocated and an office established within the government to monitor the disclosures and to pursue anomalies that are observed.
• Availability of this information to the public is a key aspect of such disclosure.
Disclosure needs to be accompanied by effective dissemination of the information, usually by the media in a responsible manner. Public disclosure also implies that the information be easily available to NGOs that are interested in analysing the information and sharing it with the public.
UNDERSTANDING CORRUPTION - While there may be no universally agreed definition of corruption, we can take it to mean something along the lines of:
'misuse of office for private gain'. The office is a position of trust, where one receives authority in order to act on behalf of an institution, be it private, public, or non-profit.
Some common forms of corruption are:
Bribery: the giving of some form of benefit to unduly influence some action or decision on the part of the recipient or beneficiary;
Embezzlement, theft and fraud: the taking or conversion of money, property or other valuables for personal benefit;
Extortion: extortion involves coercive incentives such as the use of threat of violence or the exposure or damaging information in order to induce cooperation;
Abuse of discretion: the abuse of office for private gain, but without external inducement or extortion;
Favouritism, nepotism and clientelism: In general, these involve abuse of discretion, an act governed not by the direct self-interest of the corrupt individual, but by some less tangible affiliation, such as advancing the interest of family (nepotism), a political party or other grouping;
Improper political contributions: payments made in an attempt to unduly influence present or future activities by a party or its members when they are in office.
(Adapted from UNODC Anti-Corruption Toolkit)
Corruption's negative impacts include:
• Undermines economic growth, by diverting resources to inefficient or unproductive sectors or actors; by reducing income tax and other revenue sources; by increasing the cost of doing business; by reducing the quality of contracted works; and ultimately undermines investor confidence and contributes to capital flight.
• Undermines poverty reduction efforts, as less resources will be available for social programmes; through poor targeting of beneficiaries in terms of the overall effectiveness of services and accessiblility to more citizens on an equitable basis;
• Undermines the safety, environmental health and the sustainability of cities, health regulations are ignored; and weak enforcement of environmental protection policies and regulations, may even compromise the needs of future generations;
• Threatens political stability, particularly in the case of systemic corruption. The loss of public confidence in the rule of law, justice and governance institutions can lead to political instability and even civil strife.
SVG Green Party would put forward policies to increase transparency, including areas such as: (i) assessment and monitoring; (ii) access to information; (iii) ethics and integrity; (iv) institutional reform; (v) targeting specific issues.
Transparency is a strategy for fostering public participation and promoting good governance. It is an approach based on the core principles of good governance and is an effective strategy for enhancing accountability and successfully weeding out the possibilities of corruption. In view of the present global economy, there has never been a greater need to focus on transparency.
Ivan O'Neal BSc(Hons), MSc, MBA
Leader and co-founder of SVG Green Party.