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Experts seek assets, liabilities’ declaration reform

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Worried by the poor compliance with provisions of the Assets and Liabilities Declaration Framework (ALDF), among public officeholders, stakeholders have called for an urgent review of the policy in line with extant laws.
 
Specifically, the stakeholders called for less-cumbersome provisions, digitalisation of processes, proper funding through National Assembly appropriation, expanded tribunal, consultative and participatory processes, among others.

Recently, the Chairman, CCB, Mohammed Isah, said the level of compliance with the declaration of assets by public officeholders in the country is not encouraging.

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According to him, while there has been an improvement from the past, there is a need for all public officers to know that they are duty-bound to declare their assets.
 
He noted that the list of public officers bound to declare their assets and liabilities under the Fifth Schedule (Part II) to the 1999 Constitution encompasses the three arms and tiers of government, ranging from the President of the Federal Republic to the cleaner in a local government area.
 
On this basis, experts have clamoured for the review and amendment of the assets and liabilities declaration framework, saying the current system is manual and cumbersome and contains a jurat, which requires the declaration to be made before a High Court Judge.
 
In a communiqué, after a two-day capacity building workshop on engaging Nigeria’s ALDF in Abuja, by CSJ, with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), aimed at reforming Nigeria’s assets declaration framework, experts expressed the need to move from analogue to digital system.
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Lead Director, CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, said the current arrangement and operations of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), as presently constituted are characterised by many weaknesses that affect its efficiency and effectiveness, including the composition of the Tribunal with a Chairman and only two members.
 
Onyekpere noted that from the current provision, the Chairman and a single member could form a quorum for the purpose of conducting proceedings. But in an event where there is a tie, the opinion of the Tribunal becomes difficult to discern. Moreover, where the Chairman is unavailable, the Tribunal is rendered inoperative.
 
He added that the Tribunal has only one chamber, which sits in Abuja, therefore making it expensive and difficult for non-Abuja based defendants to attend its proceedings.
 
Onyekpere argued that the current arrangement that makes the CCT and its Chairman, who exercise virtual judicial functions answerable to the Presidency, undermines the integrity, credibility, and effectiveness of the Tribunal, and is therefore unacceptable.

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In their recommendation, the experts stressed the need for the full enforcement and observance of extant constitutional and statutory provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by the CCB.
 
They maintained that there was a need for the National Assembly to amend the constitutional list of public officers for the purpose of assets and liabilities declaration to limit them to a realistic and manageable number.
 
They said: “The ALDF should be digitised to an Online Assets Declaration Framework (OADF), and the jurat in the form should be converted to attestation to remove the unnecessary process of going before a high court judge to make the declaration.
 
“The CCB should adopt the OADF because of a plethora of benefits including ease of compliance for declarants, ease of managing the process for the Bureau, quality control, and improving verification of declarations.”

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In agreement, the Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo, said the extant Assets and Liabilities Declaration Form needs reforms to include arts and antiques, jewellery, intellectual property, cryptocurrencies, beneficial ownership, previous employment history, and Tax Identification Number (TIN) among others.

“The CCB should embark on a consultative and participatory process with key stakeholder groups to develop and propose a Bill to the National Assembly to address the inadequacies and weaknesses in the current system,” Ojo said.
 
He reiterated the need for the Federal Government to establish a CCT in each of the geo-political zones in the country, to deal with cases emanating from the states.

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In his remarks, a notary public, Kalu Onuoha, said the CCB and CCT as currently composed were not robust anti-corruption agencies, pointing out that they are operating below the mandate bestowed on them by both the constitution and the enabling legislation.

He linked the poor showing to the bureau’s poor funding and understaffing, especially in leadership positions of the organisation. He contended that the CCB Act’s minimum qualification of the organisation’s membership as
“a person of unimpeachable character in the society” was not enough.

“There is no educational or professional qualification for being a member of CCB and we are talking of a major agency that needs specialised expertise. It is a multidisciplinary agency that brings in experts from various fields,” Onuoha said.
 
He noted that if anything happens to the Chairman of the Bureau, the CCT would be incapacitated and would not be able to carry out its functions.

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