Assets declaration by civil servants
The directive, the other day, by President Muhammadu Buhari, making it mandatory for all workers in the federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to declare their assets signposts another level of the effort at winning the war against corruption. No one should be in doubt that asset declaration is a veritable part of the ongoing sanitisation process and extending it to civil servants, as it ordinarily should be, is a welcome development. Except those who have something to hide, the directive should be fully accepted and obeyed immediately as there is a compelling need to rid the civil service of corruption.
The directive came on the heels of overwhelming evidence of financial improprieties and sundry corrupt actions among government workers as gathered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in collaboration with financial institutions at the end of the Bank Verification Number exercise. Mind-boggling deals have been revealed involving all levels of officials in the country’s public service to the extent that, according to reports, what has been found with politicians pales into relative insignificance.
For instance, it was discovered that many of the workers operate several local and foreign accounts used for siphoning money from government coffers, laundering same and using the proceeds in buying property within and outside Nigeria. These findings, reportedly infuriated the president who directed the Head of Service to ensure that all members of staff of federal ministries, agencies and departments declare their assets immediately. Assets declaration, it must be emphasised, is not new to the civil service. As a matter of fact, the Constitution makes assets declaration mandatory to act as a safeguard against corrupt practices by public servants.
In furtherance of this, the Constitution went ahead to create the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), to receive and verify the assets declared, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to try and punish those who act in the breach. Unfortunately, both the CCB and Code of Conduct Tribunal have not lived up to expectation due to poor funding and incompetence of personnel. As it were, over the years, only politicians have been made to declare their assets, which is why the present demand on civil servants is most appropriate. The role of civil servants as executors of government vision is too crucial and the officials too exposed to material assets not to demand the highest level of probity.
Ideally, every public servant, including university workers and other tertiary institution employees are required by law to declare their assets on assumption of duty, and every four years thereafter. Even before the latest financial improprieties were exposed through the Bank Verification Number exercise, it has always been common knowledge that the civil service is a cesspit of corruption. While politicians come and go, civil servants have been the immovable rock in the massive looting of Nigeria’s resources. Indeed, they are known not only to corrupt the politicians by pointing the way for them, knowing where all the proverbial copses are buried as the ones with the institutional tools and memory, civil servants also enrich themselves beyond measure.
It has been revealed that properties owned by many of these civil servants are not built with their legitimate income, of course, but these have been difficult to trace to them because many are owned through proxies. There is the need, therefore, for proper registration of such property for ease of verification of ownership. Also, government should impose heavy property tax if this would help to unravel ownership.
Virtually all cadres of the civil service are involved in the sleaze, with a few individual exceptions. For that reason, it may not just be enough to merely demand asset declaration without a mechanism for verification to uncover deliberate falsification of information, in which case, even a forensic verification exercise should be considered.
Luckily, the government is working hard to establish such a forensic diagnostic centre that would help in dealing with falsification of documents. There is also a need for whistle blowers in the service to be encouraged with appropriate protection for them. It is good enough that government is beaming the searchlight on civil servants because reforming the civil service to stem waste, and corruption, create efficiency and effectiveness is one of the ways to save Nigeria.