Only 43pc of countries disclose public officials’ assets– World Bank

Financial disclosure laws requiring public officials to file a statement of their assets, liabilities and interests can make corruption easier to detect.
The World Bank headquarters in Washington DC; Financial declarations laws make graft easier to unearth. Net Photo.
The World Bank headquarters in Washington DC; Financial declarations laws make graft easier to unearth. Net Photo.

Financial disclosure laws requiring public officials to file a statement of their assets, liabilities and interests can make corruption easier to detect.

However, a new World Bank database finds that although 78 per cent of countries covered by the database have financial disclosure systems, only 36 per cent systematically check public servants’ disclosures for irregularities and inconsistencies in a news statement.

To support countries in their fight against corruption, the World  Bank is launching the Financial Disclosure Law Library to help policymakers and practitioners establish strong financial disclosure systems. The library compiles over 1,000 laws and regulations on financial disclosure and restrictions on public officials’ activities from 176 countries. 

Financial disclosure by public officials provides law enforcement with information and evidence for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of corruption, illicit enrichment and tax crimes. It also gives citizens the information they need to hold public officials accountable for their actions.

The library shows that not all public officials are obligated to declare their assets and interests. High-level officials are generally included; 93 per cent of covered countries require disclosure for cabinet members, 91 per cent for Members of Parliament and 62 per cent for high-ranking prosecutors.

However, only 43 per cent of countries provide the public with open access to public officials’ financial disclosures.

“Financial disclosure systems make it harder for corrupt officials to hide their criminal activities or ill-gotten wealth,” said Mr Jean Pesme, manager of Financial Market Integrity at the World Bank.

“Civil society and corruption fighters should back the G20’s call for asset disclosure systems, because they can be an effective tool for bringing thieving public servants to justice.”

A World Bank analysis published earlier this year, Using Asset Disclosure for Identifying Politically Exposed Persons, noted that as much as 93 per cent of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have disclosure systems, while the percentage drops to 53 per cent in Middle East and Northern African countries. While significant variations in implementation and access exist across the world’s financial disclosure systems, stakeholders agree that such systems are essential.

“Financial disclosure is key in the fight against corruption,” says Navil Campos Paniagua, manager, Complaints and Investigations Area, General Comptroller of the Republic of Costa Rica.

“Until now, countries have been unaware of each other’s efforts when it comes to asset disclosure laws. The World Bank law library will certainly help practitioners and policymakers from different countries learn from one another and boost financial disclosure in their own countries.”

The World Bank’s work in Financial Market Integrity supports transparent and inclusive financial systems, and the fight against illicit financial flows.

According to the report of the World Bank on corruption, Rwanda ranks fourth in Africa in the fight against corruption and holds the first place in East Africa.

The law obligates about 8,000 public servants in the country to declare their wealth as one of the key steps taken by government to fight graft. Accordingly, they are required to submit their income, assets and liabilities for verification by the Office of Ombudsman before 30th June every year.

However, the watchdog this year identified 474 public servants that failed to declare their wealth as required by law even after the introduction of an online registration system despite persistent pleas from the Ombudsman’s office. They have duly been reprimanded.

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