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Government officials to declare assets

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) says it is still finalising plans that will see government officials declaring their assets. The anti-corruption unit is mandated by law to enforce the declaration of assets by government officials. Parliament’s Standing Orders and the amended anti-corruption law that established DCEO require MPs, ministers, principal secretaries, holders of statutory positions and directors to declare their assets within 30 days of their appointment.

Parliament’s ethics committee has the mandate to ensure that MPs declare their assets as required by the standing orders.
Assets declaration helps to fight corruption by government officials in that once it is known how much they have it will not be easy for them to live beyond their means. The DCEO spokesperson, ’Matlhokomelo Senoko, told the Sunday Express on Wednesday that they are still designing the form that will be used in the assets declaration exercise. “We are still in the process of designing a form for this exercise,” Senoko said.

“I cannot guarantee when the design will be completed.” Senoko said the DCEO is being assisted by Bertrand de Speville, a Commonwealth seconded anti-corruption consultant, who is training the DCEO staff. “Once the form is complete, asset declaration will start,” Senoko said. But Basotho Congress Party (BCP) leader, Thulo Mahlakeng, said the delay in enforcing the asset declaration requirement suggests the government is dragging its feet.

Mahlakeng, who is an MP, said since the re-introduction of democracy in 1993 officials have never declared assets because “it is not in the interest of the rulers”. “As an example that the rulers are not interested in asset declaration, during the sixth and seventh parliaments the then leader of House said there was no office or person who was trustworthy enough to do this exercise,” Mahlakeng said.

“Now, in the eighth parliament, the DCEO has been identified as the office qualifying for the job but there is dillydallying when the assets are supposed to be declared,” he said. Former deputy premier, Lesao Lehohla, was the National Assembly leader during the sixth and seventh parliaments. “I fail to understand why a leader would not want their assets declared if they know they are clean. Is it because they have properties and other assets that they don’t want us to know?” Mahlakeng asked.

But the chairman of parliament’s ethics committee, Pelele Letsoela, the current parliament is serious about asset declaration and the government is pushing for it. “It is not this government and this parliament that have been playing tricks,” Letsoela said.
“We are only waiting for the making of rules for our committee and then asset declaration will be effected,” he said.
Letsoela said his committee visited the South African parliament in Cape Town in March to study how the issue of asset declaration is handled.

“Our parliament will soon approve our rules and every Member of Parliament will declare their assets,” he said. “We have learnt in South Africa that even spouses of parliamentarians are requested to declare although their information is not open to the public.” Letsoela said his committee has since made recommendations that they should make a joint venture with the Senate’s ethics committee.

“Members of Parliament and the senators will all declare their assets,” he said. As for other senior government officials who are not MPs, Letsoela said the DCEO is mandated by law to enforce asset declaration. In July last year, the then DCEO spokesperson Litelu Ramokhoro said they were about “to remove some technical problems we encountered in the past”.

Public Service Regulations say “an officer who fails to disclose an interest in terms of this regulation or willfully provides incorrect or misleading information commits an act of misconduct, and if found guilty is liable to disciplinary action or a criminal charge or both”. The need to declare assets by public officers was first pushed by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, who is now the deputy speaker, in 2006.

But the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party MPs, outvoted him. In 2008 parliament passed the Public Service Regulations that do not affect ministers and MPs. In 2009 the then main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party pushed without success for a law compelling MPs and other public office holders to declare their assets before taking office.
The ABC wanted parliament to compel all legislators and senior government officials to declare their assets before they come into office.

The declaration would include all investments, fixed and non-fixed assets. They wanted the MPs and senior government officials to declare the source of the wealth they accrued before taking office. They also wanted the MPs to explain the source of the wealth that they would have accrued during their tenure in parliament. Led by the leader of the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) leader Macaefa Billy, who was also the ABC secretary general, MPs promised to start the “real push within the next two weeks”.

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