The declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants, particularly ministers, MPs and other senior government officials, is a noble idea as it has been found to be an effective way of getting rid of official corruption.
In more mature democracies, this has become both an obligation and a norm.
The practice is founded on the need to propagate a culture of probity, transparency and accountability and on the notion that some government officials tend to engage in unscrupulous, sometimes grossly underhand deals during their tenure.
In Zimbabwe such financial shenanigans has been reported during every one of the country’s three decades of independence, the Willogate scandal of the 1980s that implicated several Cabinet ministers and one of them committing suicide, the NocZim and housing scandal of the 1990s involving a few ministers and the multiple farm ownership and diamond scandal of the just ended decade.
It is quite encouraging that Co-Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone has taken heed of the public’s call for greater probity, transparency and accountability and broken the ground with a public declaration of her assets and liabilities.
Makone disclosed that she officially made the public declaration of her assets before the Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo.
When NewsDay asked for the details, both Makone and Moyo were evasive. Makone referred all questions to the Speaker who said would not divulge the information “at this point”.
This is disturbing and equally worrying.
For one thing, the conduct of Parliament shows a determined effort to mask what has been unveiled for the public and to block the public eye from the files, which in essence defeats the very reason why the declaration was done in the first place.
For another, it is sad to note that the Speaker is also a public official who is obliged to follow suit, as if he accounts to himself.
This raises the question whether the declaration was done in good faith or just another Oprah Winfrey show.
The public has a right to know how public officials accumulate their wealth and the stock of assets and liabilities they held before coming to office in order to keep financial shenanigans in check.
Parliament’s decision to conceal the information is absolutely unacceptable and shows the limitations of reliance on moral suasion on the one hand and the need to legislate for the compulsory declaration of assets and liabilities on the other.
The consideration of liabilities is critical because it determines whether a person or business will be able to continue realising those assets in the future.
In more mature democracies, the nomination of ministers, legislators and other senior government officials is done after a vetting process that looks at assets, verifying how those assets were acquired.
After a bad start, Zimbabwe clearly has a long way to go.