Developing income and asset declaration systems

UNODC supports countries in the region developing and strengthening asset declaration systems

Posted on 30 June 2018.

Income and asset declaration regimes and conflict of interest rules are amongst the most important tools in preventing corruption and conflicts of interest; they are also useful in supporting anti-corruption investigations. Increased transparency and integrity of public bodies can be seen through countries increasing efforts to implement these tools. Most notably, countries are increasingly regulating and sanctioning behavior where potential or actual conflict of interest arises, controlling financial and other assets and interests of public officials, gifts, benefits and hospitality payments.

Nonetheless, in several Southeast Asian countries, these systems are still underutilized, and few convictions for false declarations or inexplicable wealth have been achieved so far.

In order to gain better clarity on how to support the development of effective asset declaration systems in the region, UNODC has undertaken astudy analyzing the systems in Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam. From the study, which covered both legal and institutional frameworks, it became clear that one of the most pressing issues is that asset declarations often do not allow the effective verification of wealth. In light of this, UNODC conducted a "Regional Workshop on Assets Declarations and Conflict of Interest in Southeast Asia", whereby 30 representatives of Anti-Corruption Commissions and Oversight Institutions from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and Viet Nam were trained on how to verify asset declarations to uncover inexplicable wealth.

In this workshop participants learned how to design asset declaration forms and how to perform effective verification of wealth. Participants were exposed to international theory and best practices on the topic and practiced verification of asset declarations through a hypothetical case study. Participants were able to learn how declarants typically hide and underreport the true origin and value of their wealth. The workshop also covered the issue of conflict of interests and how asset declarations can serve the identification of potential and actual conflicts.

In addition, UNODC also provided technical assistance to develop and strengthen asset declaration systems at the national level. In cooperation with the Government Inspectorate of Vietnam, UNODC conducted a national roundtable on asset declarations in Viet Nam. There were 40 participants from 27 agencies who participated in the event and debated the provisions on asset declarations contained in the draft new Anti-Corruption Law. This law should be approved and enacted soon.

In Vietnam, currently more than a million public officials have to file a declaration and the verification of their content for uncovering hidden or inexplicable wealth is still extremely challenging.

Against this background, the roundtable allowed for feedback and expert opinions on the proposed revisions of the provisions of the draft Anti-Corruption Law. National stakeholders debated on issues such as effective sanctions for inexplicable wealth, offences to be sanctioned, and how to handle cash in asset declarations.

A roundtable on asset declarations was also conducted in Myanmar; the asset declaration system is to be developed in the country in application of the new anti-corruption law. The Anti-Corruption Commission asked UNODC for assistance in developing the necessary regulatory and institutional framework.

Countries in South Asia have recognized that their existing laws and regulations on asset declaration are lacking the effective implementation, enforcement and verification aspects to become a proper corruption prevention measure.

Aiming to effectively assist countries in building up more effective systems of declarations of asset and conflict of interest for public officials, UNODC conducted two national workshops in Sri Lanka (12-14 March 2018) and Bangladesh (6-8 May 2018). These trainings were offered to national anti-corruption commissions and stakeholders as a platform to share global and regional trends, country experiences and lessons learned on the effective management of asset declaration and conflict of interest systems.

The workshops allowed participants to identify models and systems of asset declaration and conflicts of interest, effectively building skills that could be applied in their respective legal contexts. Most notably, the events provided an opportunity for competent authorities to identify preliminary options for strengthening specific pillars of the asset declaration and conflict of interest systems, using discussions during the workshop to identify areas that require further consultations with a broader group of stakeholders.

The workshop in Sri Lanka was conducted in close collaboration with the World Bank- UNODC Stolen Assets Initiative (StAR) within the joint efforts to assist the country to amend its legislation. Following the workshop, Sri Lanka finalized the draft law on Asset Declarations and forwarded it to Parliament in May.