Monitoring Assets of Public Officials in Southeast Asia

Hanoi, Viet Nam (Online), 22 September 2021 - Asset declarations are one of the most effective tools in fighting corruption - if effectively used. Article 8.5 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) requests that State Parties require public officials to make declarations regarding their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result, to appropriate authorities. UNCAC Article 52.5 also highlights the role asset declarations can play for recovering proceeds of crime.

In the absence of agreed upon international standards on asset disclosure requirements, studies assessing the existence and effectiveness of asset disclosure regimes in countries across the world have pointed to a set of core principles that could be considered by governments seeking to adopt such regimes; these include rules regarding the (i) coverage of assets declaration; (ii) types of information to be declared; (iii) frequency of filling; (iv) monitoring and enforcement, (v) sanctions; and (vi) availability of information to the wider public.

In Southeast Asia, asset declaration systems have been introduced in various forms. While important steps have been taken already, such as designing declaration forms and starting the process of collecting declarations, other aspects of implementation are still under way. Points that could still benefit from improvements are efficient submission systems, meaningful verification mechanisms, public access to declarations, and/or effective sanctions.

Selection of participants from UNODC Workshop on the Asset and Income Control of Public Officials in Southeast Asia: Concepts and Practical Applications

To enhance the effectiveness of asset and income disclosure systems, UNODC held a semi-virtual training workshop on 22 September 2021 in Hanoi, Viet Nam. The event looked at existing best practices, methodologies to detect conflicts of interest and ways to accommodate disclosure systems within national legislation and organizational frameworks.

Key topics discussed during the workshop include:

Asset declaration systems should be tailored to a State’s broader integrity system

Slide presented by Ms. Alma Sedlar from a Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) report, showing the most common verification approaches

Ms. Alma Sedlar (UNODC Anti-Corruption Consultant) gave a comparative analysis of income and asset declaration systems, emphasizing that there is no single approach that would be ideal for all Member States. She outlined the most common models, which may take the form of an illicit wealth focus, conflict of interest focus, or a combination of both. A combined system allows a broader range of anti-corruption objectives to be met, although it also requires a more comprehensive regulatory framework and more resources when it comes to the analysis of the declared information.

Slide presented by Ms. Tanuchanat Luecha (Assets Inspector Officer, National Anti-Corruption Commission of Thailand) showing that sensitive information is redacted from publicly-accessible Income & Asset Declaration System (IAD) reports

Globally, Ms. Sedlar explained that there are many differences among countries when it comes to the more detailed characteristics of disclosure systems. For instance, regarding sanctions for non-compliance, systems range from fines to administrative sanctions or even criminal penalties. Most commonly, governments require declared information to be publicly available, either through full or partial access. This may help members of the public to verify the information, as part of a participatory approach to the prevention of corruption. In terms of whom a disclosure system targets, Ms. Sedlar explained that there is a trend towards including a wide range of public officials, with 65% of States even including requirements for officials’ family members.

Slide presented by Ms. Hong Chin Chin (Policy, Planning and Research Division, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) showing a possible wide range of sanctions for non-compliant public officials

To help countries select an optimal type of system, Mr. Tim Steele (UNODC Senior Anti-Corruption Adviser) called for countries to be guided by their underlying objectives. For instance, if the system is designed to target illicit enrichment, it needs to revolve around cash values and expenses; however, if the system targets conflict of interest, the focus is not on numerical input but on connections between individuals, businesses and organizations.

Slide presented by Mr. Francesco Checchi (UNODC Anti-Corruption Adviser), showing how the type of information requested may depend on the underlying objectives of a disclosure system

Data linkages and technological solutions can improve the effectiveness of disclosure systems

Ms. Alma Sedlar explained that an increasing number of States are adopting asset and income disclosure systems, alongside a trend towards incorporating technological and automated approaches. This can save costs when it comes to verification, as “red flag” systems can guide investigators towards suspicious data.

Building on this, Mr. Tim Steele argued that, when it comes to detecting corruption using declared information, what is most important is often what is not there. For example, cases where neither a minister nor their partner admit to owning a car should be treated as an instance requiring further investigation.

Slide presented by Mr. Rino Haruno of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), showing how the agency’s disclosure system is integrated with other data sources

To address this, Mr. Steele called for greater synergies between data-collecting entities, arguing that the more a disclosure system is linked up to other data sources, the more governments will be able to flag up data that requires a follow-up. He encouraged participants to think creatively about the types of data that could support the detection of corruption, such as vehicle registration databases, which can be used to cross-check the claims made by officials.

Slide presented by Mr. Dennis Baldago (Office of the Ombudsman of the Philippines) showing how the national disclosure system, the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Network (SALN) aims to draw together a wide range of data for purposes of anti-corruption

This webinar was part of activities funded by prosperity programming of the Government of the United Kingdom. Footage (where available) and written summaries of UNODC webinars are publicly available via our website.

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