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Civil society wants mandatory public assets disclosure for politicians

By Moses Walubiri

Added 7th September 2016 08:08 AM

"I believe that one of the price one pays for accepting to be a public figure is to put up with constant public scrutiny. That is why in many other jurisdictions, people don't want to become politicians," Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda

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"I believe that one of the price one pays for accepting to be a public figure is to put up with constant public scrutiny. That is why in many other jurisdictions, people don't want to become politicians," Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda

PIC: Cissy Kagaba (R) the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda(above) told lawmakers sitting on the legal and parliamentary affairs committee of parliament on Tuesday that one of the price one pays for accepting to be a public figure is to put up with constant public scrutiny.

As different stakeholders weigh in on the Leadership Code (Amendment) Bill, 2016, a number of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) want the piece of legislation to explicitly provide for mandatory public disclosure of assets for people required to routinely declare their assets and liabilities to the inspectorate of government.

Although the principle Act treats as public information accessible to members of the public upon application to the Inspector General of Government (IGG), the bill seeks to bestow upon the IGG with the discretion to avail information or out rightly  reject request for the same.

"I believe that one of the price one pays for accepting to be a public figure is to put up with constant public scrutiny. That is why in many other jurisdictions, people don't want to become politicians," Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda told lawmakers sitting on the legal and parliamentary affairs committee of parliament on Tuesday.

Kagaba with Peter Wandera, the executive director of Transparency International Uganda in tow, was leading a delegation of a number of CSOs.

The amendment seeking to give the IGG discretionary powers to release information about assets and liabilities of an individual has received withering criticism from a number of stakeholders who have labeled the move counterproductive.

Under the amendment, the IGG, despite constitutional provisions on access to information in hands of government, can decline a request for information about assets and liabilities of a politician in case there is a danger of compromising an individual's privacy or compromising the sovereignty and security of the country.

The danger with the mooted amendment, Kagaba avers, is that what amounts to compromising Uganda's  security and  sovereignty or breaching the privacy of a public figure if his assets and liabilities are made public by the IGG is not explained which can lead to abuse of discretionary powers.

Kagaba contends that making information about public figures' assets easily accessible will be a plus to politicians "at a time when public confidence in politicians is at an all-time low."

However, MPs Sam Bitangaro and Aston Kajara, both lawyers, impugned the suggestion by CSOs on public disclosure of politicians' assets saying it offends constitutional provisions on the right to privacy.

"Under Article 223 of the constitution, an IGG is at the level of a High Court judge and you know that the law gives judges wide discretionary powers. Are you worried that the IGG will misuse this power?" Bitangaro asked.

The Leadership Code Act provides for minimum standard of behaviour and conduct for leaders and requires leaders to routinely declare their income, assets and liabilities as one of the ways to prevent those with access to the public purse from fraudulently enriching themselves.

Routine declaration of assets is aimed at preventing fraudulent accumulation of wealth by those with access to the public till.

However, in enforcement of the Leadership Code Act, courts of law have faulted the Inspector General of Government (IGG) for flouting a number of constitutional provisions over absence of a Leadership Code Tribunal.

One of the key amendments of the Bill is to provide for a Leadership Code Tribunal.
 

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