DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As part of a broader push for transparency in government, Tanzania is planning to strengthen the powers of its ethics commissioner to force public officials to disclose their assets.
Salome Kaganda, the Ethics Secretariat Commissioner, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the attorney general’s office will draft amendments to the 1995 law to give the secretariat powers to deal with officials who fail to comply with ethical guidelines.
Some politicians and advocacy groups want to see full public disclosure of the wealth statements, which now are shielded from the public eye. Tanzania opposition leaders have accused government officials of faking their asset declarations to cover up what they call ill-gotten wealth.
“We would like the law that give us clear mandate to deal with anyone who goes against laid-out ethical guidelines” Kaganda told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The existing law obliges a public leader to submit to the Ethics Secretariat, which is an independent government agency, a written declaration of all property, assets and liabilities in his or her name.
Although the ethics law gives members of the public the right to examine the declaration records of their leaders, it limits transparency and accountability by prohibiting the publication or dissemination of such information.
Tanzania is a member of the international initiative the Open Government Partnership, which sets standards for transparency and monitors country progress. Among a long list of pledges made in September 2011 for improving governance and public accountability, Tanzania said it would: “Prepare legislative amendments and regulations to strengthen asset disclosures of public officials.”
President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete also has urged the Ethics Commission not to shy away from asking public officials to account for their wealth. “The Commission should be proactive. I will help it to build the capacity to do so, if indeed that is the problem,” he said in a speech before parliament in 2005.
The chairman of Tanzania parliamentary committee on public accounts, Zitto Kabwe, said the law in its present form does not provide for sufficient transparency. “Transparency is key in enhancing accountability, asset declaration forms should be open for anybody to access at any time,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to Kabwe, the Ethics Secretariat should have powers to publish assets of public leaders who fail to comply with regulations in declaring their wealth.
WEALTH ON THE RISE
The ranks of the wealthy have been swelling in Tanzania in recent years, especially as emerging sectors such as telecommunications and natural gas discoveries act as catalysts for economic growth. A new survey by Wealth X shows that the number of Tanzanians with net assets of $30 million or more grew by 21 percent from 95 people to 105 between 2012 and 2013.
The opposition party CHADEMA has alleged that prominent business people and top government officials have secretly stashed away millions of dollars in off-shore bank accounts.
According to data from the Swiss central bank, the amount of money that the Tanzanians held in savings and deposit accounts in Swiss banks grew to $5.41 billion in 2012, up from $3.6 billion the prior year, although the annual amounts have varied considerably over the past decade.
Tanzania is 102nd out of 174 countries on the Transparency International 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, down a few notches from 2011 but a better ranking than any other East African nation.
Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza, a leading governance group in East Africa. said making asset disclosures public and available online would be a concrete step to demonstrate the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
“A leader who decides to go into public service accepts the need for public scrutiny; if he has nothing to hide he will not be afraid of transparency,” Rajani said.
(Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, who writes for Thomson Reuters Foundation. Edited by Stella Dawson)