By Momodou Jarju
The Office of the Ombudsman has disclosed that ‘‘a declaration of assets by public officers as required by Law, is not a threat to privacy but a tool to tackle corruption.’’ These were remarks made by the Ombudsman Mrs. Fatou Njie Jallow on Wednesday May 15 2019. She further said that fighting corruption is a concern in most countries, and assets declaration has immense benefits towards this end. “The literature on Assets declaration states many benefits of the process. It increases transparency and the trust of citizens in public administration,” she said; that other benefits include enhancing the legitimacy of Government in the eyes of the public, exposure of substantial unjust enrichment, and promoting economic growth in a country, amongst others.
Under Section 223 of the 1997 Constitution, public officers are required to submit to the Ombudsman written declarations of their properties and assets as well as the liabilities they owed directly or indirectly, upon assuming office, at the end of every two years and or ceasing to hold public office. She added that false declaration of assets is deemed to contravene the code of conduct set out in chapter XX1 of the 1997 Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia. She said the provision further states that a declaration shall be produced if required by a proceeding before a Court of competent jurisdiction, other than a district tribunal, and in proceedings before a Commission of inquiry appointed in accordance with the Constitution.
Mrs. Jallow said apart from the directive that the President gave to cabinet ministers to declare their assets which compliance rate is high, they have also written to public officers to declare their assets and liabilities; that already a total of 180 asset declaration forms were issued and 124 have been properly filled and returned; that another 41 forms were distributed recently and the deadline is yet to come. Ombudsman Jallow said the target groups for now, are mainly top officers from public institutions and parastatals, including permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries and directors from Government institutions.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jallow said their main constraint is the delay in reply from some institutions, despite the issuance of a timeline; that the second constraint is the missing of personal files which is delaying their work. She urged institutions to train their personnel on proper storage and retrieval of files; that as an institution, the way forward for the Ombudsman is to strengthen the investigation, complaints handling and human rights directorate.
She concludes that during the period under review, they continued to function independently without interference from any external force as enshrined in the Constitution.