Francis Ben Kaifala

By Francis Ben Kaifala


Many countries have some form of asset declaration requirement for public officials, but there is substantial country-by-country variance as to the actual design of the process. There is especially wide variation with respect to the public accessibility of the disclosed information. In Sierra Leone, under current law, government officers’ asset declarations are kept confidential.

Before I was appointed head of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), I was part of a civil society consortium that called for making all of these declarations public. A few months after my appointment, I was asked if I would support changing the law to make asset declarations public, in line with what I had advocated as a member of civil society. In reflecting on this question, I found that I had changed my mind.

Part of the reason I did not advocate changing the law to make asset declarations public was simply that there was no way our Parliament would pass such an amendment in the short-to-medium term. It did not seem sensible to waste political capital on such a controversial proposal—especially since doing so might provoke a backlash and jeopardize other important reforms.

But the reasons for my change of view were not merely pragmatic political calculations. I have also come to believe that, at Sierra Leone’s current stage of development, making asset declarations public could do more harm than good.

Making asset declarations public has advantages and disadvantages. In countries where the declarations are public, interested persons or groups can scrutinize public officers’ assets, income, and liabilities, and this monitoring can detect or deter corruption. But there are also drawbacks to making asset declarations public, several of which are especially salient in Sierra Leone:

First, _*making public officials’ assets public could jeopardize their privacy and expose them to all sorts of undesirable pressures, particularly given the abuse of social media and other means of information dissemination.*_ One can imagine officials whose assets are known being targeted by their clans, villages, and family for failing to provide their personal resources for them when they need it—and this increased pressure on officials might actually increase the risk of corruption. (Of course, it’s also possible that public asset disclosures will reveal that a public official is less affluent than their family and village previously thought.

But this probably wouldn’t alleviate the pressure on public officers, who are generally expected to take responsibility of their friends, families, clans, neighbors, etc.)

The information contained in asset declaration forms will, in most cases, strengthen the often considerable pressure on public officers by calling attention to the resources at their disposal.

On a related note, public asset declarations could make public officials more likely targets for criminals.  Although the crime rate in Sierra Leone is generally low, our society had not evolved to the point that one announce one’s assets to the general public and remain safe. I would be quite nervous if anybody on the street could be watching my bank balance on a smart phone.

These factors, combined with the fact that the culture in Sierra Leone discourages too much disclosure of individuals’ wealth or other personal affairs, means that public asset disclosure might discourage good citizens from venturing into public service. _*Indeed, individuals acting in bad faith might try to use asset declarations as a political tool to target public officials or make interested people shy away from politics.

Additionally, given all of the above factors, making declarations public might increase the frequency of false or misleading declarations. Right now in Sierra Leone, it is more important to ensure that the declarations are accurate, and we should not undermine that goal by giving otherwise honest public officers strong incentives to resort to all kinds of dishonest tactics to avoid the personal consequences that would come with disclosure of their assets to the general public.

The fact that asset declarations are not public does not mean that the asset declaration system is not an effective anticorruption tool. Although the ACA did not push to make the declarations public, we did adopt a set of other reforms designed to ensure robust enforcement of asset declaration processes, with strict penalties on those who fail to file or who file incorrect or incomplete information, and to make the process more efficient.

We also combined the information in the asset declarations with other information (including lifestyle audits) to investigate the integrity of public officials and prosecute offenders.

This is not to say that there will never come a point where it makes sense for Sierra Leone to make public officials’ asset declarations public.

But each country must determine what works best for it in its particular circumstances. And for Sierra Leone, notwithstanding what I had thought in my activist days, the asset declaration system will work best if the declarations are kept confidential.


The author *Francis Ben Kaifala Esq is Commissioner (Head), Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone

©️ *Public Relations Unit, ACC*

Copyright –Published in Expo Magazine, February Edition, Vol.2, No.2, 2024 (ExpoTimes News – Expo Media Group (