Should the president declare his wealth?

03Mar 2016
The Guardian
Should the president declare his wealth?

It may seem quite impolite for someone to challenge the president of the United Republic of Tanzania to publicly disclose details of his personal income, assets and liabilities.

But we are siding with opposition ACT Maendeleo party leader Zitto Kabwe, who has done just that.

According to the Kigoma Urban legislator, such a declaration from the holder of the highest public office in the land would go far towards promoting accountability and transparency among all public officials in the country.

We agree with him because we also believe that the whole concept of public leadership ethics can only be made more meaningful if it starts from the very top.

President Magufuli’s commitment to wiping out corruption in the public service since he took power in November last year has been vivid, and it is our conviction that a move on his part to publicly declare his own wealth and assets would be a clear signal that the fifth phase government is really serious about taking its anti-graft fight all the way to the finish line.

By declaring his assets, the president would further solidify the very foundation of his own stated beliefs that being open about one’s own assets can help prevent conflicts of interest among public office holders.

Disclosure of such information on private assets (and liabilities) increases the transparency of decision-making processes, and thereby further ensures the accountability of public office holders in the fulfillment of their respective duties.

The declaration process also helps to provide a baseline to identify assets that may have been corruptly acquired and that a public official may legitimately be asked to account for.

Magufuli’s recent ultimatum to a few ministers in his cabinet who had not yet filled out the assets and liabilities declaration forms at the Leadership Ethics secretariat was widely hailed, and seen as a further demonstration (if needed!) of the completely no-nonsense nature of the man.

The ministers were threatened with a summary sacking if they failed to fill the forms or sign a formal integrity pledge within a very short timeframe.

In the circumstances, that their rush to beat the deadline dominated local newspaper headlines was hardly a surprise to anyone who has become used to Magufuli’s modus operandi.

At the same time, few can argue that it wasn’t the right approach. Cabinet ministers and other public officials have long been required by law to declare their assets and liabilities at the Ethics Secretariat on an annual basis, but in the past this requirement has often been ignored.

It was about time Tanzania had someone at the very top who was ready, willing and capable of tightening the screw so that serial defaulters of this particular law were literally forced to toe the line.

So taking this school of logical thought a step further, it is clear that were President Magufuli to make a similar declaration of his own assets and liabilities at this moment in time, the inherent message would sound loud and clear.

If the number one civil servant is willing to do it, what’s to prevent other civil servants from failing to emulate such a worthy example?

The thing is, much as Magufuli himself may be a ‘clean’ president, are we assured of similarly ‘clean’ presidents in the future? Making it mandatory for the president of the nation to declare his or her assets can only serve as a strong deterrent to people who might be interested in vying for the top job of the land just for the sake of amassing more and more personal wealth.

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