The Vanguard newspaper in Lagos highlights a discouraging trend of Nigerian lawmakers declaring greater personal assets than they currently posses in order to build in a cushion that accounts for corrupt gains while in office. When those asset disclosures are finally reviewed years later, the inflated numbers sadly match reality.
The article mentions how the lack of a Freedom of Information bill in Nigeria hinders public access to asset disclosures, a situation further compounded by the Official Secrets Act. Official Secrets Acts across many Commonwealth nations are an unfortunate legacy of the British colonial period that provide officials with an easy excuse to withhold information from the public. We have seen this time and again in our work in Commonwealth countries around the world as well as in the UK itself, where the Act continues to undermine public access to government information.
A related tidbit picked up in Global Integrity’s 2007 assessment of Nigeria: part of the problem with the Nigerian asset disclosure system has to do with classic bureaucratic inertia: the Code of Conduct Bureau claims that the National Assembly has the power to enact legislation making such disclosures regularly public, but the Assembly has never taken action to implement this authority. I can’t imagine why.
As more organizations (including the World Bank’s Doing Business initiative) begin to focus on tracking asset disclosure mechanisms around the world, we can only hope that some additional attention paid to this issue raises awareness over the need to focus on implementation, auditing of, and citizen access to asset disclosures, not just pretty laws on the books.
Doing Business plans to present some initial findings at a brownbag at the World Bank on Thursday May 15 for anyone interested (Room MC 9-100, 12:30-2:00 PM).
Update: The Doing Business Transparency questionaire (PDF).