When officials use their public office for private gain, it undermines institutions, deprives citizens of essential services and derails economic development. A conflict of interest arises when a public official is in a position to use public office for personal private gain or for the gain of other private parties. It points to the potential for–not necessarily the existence of–improper conduct. Thus, a regulatory regime of rules, guidance, and enforcement is needed to reduce the risk of real or perceived unethical conduct. Codes of conduct and regulations typically cover the following areas:
- Asset disclosure requirements to make public official’s assets and business activities transparent to the public.
- Conflict of interest rules and guidance to identify and manage conflicts of interests and make sure public officials’ decisions are not improperly affected by self interest.
- Revolving door regulations to stem conflicts of interest arising from the movement of individuals between the public and private sectors.
- Gift and hospitality rules preventing special interests attempting to influence policy by offering public servants items or services of value in return for favours.
Disclosure can be a powerful tool in bolstering public integrity and preventing abuses of power. While governments may put in place absolute restrictions on certain kinds of conduct, it is often supplemented with disclosures, which provide the means to monitor and resolve conflicts of interest and to detect and deter illicit enrichment.
There are multiple pathways through which asset disclosure and conflict of interest regulations strengthen public integrity. They build a culture of integrity by establishing standards of acceptable behaviour and by providing clear rules and guidance on ethical conduct in public office. Greater transparency through disclosure is a powerful deterrent against unethical behaviour by reminding public officials that their behaviour is subject to scrutiny. Moreover, they provide a valuable source of information for detecting abuse and corruption (World Bank, 2013). There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an appropriate regime. Absolute restrictions are often easier for governments to implement than disclosure systems, and are particularly relevant in contexts where there is low government capacity or resources. However income and asset disclosures are increasingly used, and a growing body of work points to a set of core principles that could be considered by governments seeking to adopt robust, effective disclosure measures.
Examples in Practice
About 137 jurisdictions implement some sort of asset disclosure regulations
Of these 137 jurisdictions, around 45 jurisdictions make disclosures available online including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.
Argentina developed an electronic financial disclosure system
A fully electronic financial disclosure system was introduced in Argentina in 2000 as a response to the enormous logistical challenge of managing a paper system. The impacts have been signiﬁcant and rapid. Requiring the ﬁler to complete all necessary ﬁelds before the form can be submitted has resulted in a reduction in the number of errors or incorrectly ﬁlled-out asset declaration forms, and subsequently in an increase in compliance rates. In the year following implementation, submission compliance rates increased from 67 percent to 96 percent and the estimated cost to the government per form decreased from US$70 to US$8.
Argentina, Guatemala, and Indonesia use targeted methods of selecting asset disclosures for verification
In Argentina, the process of selecting which asset disclosures to be verified is based on a targeted method. The top 5 percent (1,600 in 2009) of declarations are systematically verified while the other 95 percent are verified according to categories of risk. The Asset Declaration Unit is able to verify around 2,500 declarations a year.
In Guatemala, verification of asset disclosure content occurs only when officials leave office. The Department for Verification, Analysis and Investigation of Income and Assets compares the final income and asset declaration to the employee’s initial and subsequent declarations to detect any significant or unjustified increases in assets.
In Indonesia, a sample of asset declarations is verified, targeting the declarations of officials in high-risk agencies.
Around 45 jurisdictions make disclosures available online
These 45 countries include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia, Hong Kong SAR (China), Thailand, Mongolia, and Taiwan (China).
At least 32 countries have restrictions on post-government employment in at least one branch of government
According to data from Global Integrity, the following countries have restrictions on post-government employment in at least one branch of government (this is not a comprehensive list and the quality of the regulations varies between jurisdictions):
Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, China, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Germany, Kosovo, Georgia, India, Italy, Mongolia, Macedonia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Turkey, Serbia, South Africa, United States.
Chile has committed to publish asset declarations online as part of its OGP Action Plan
In its Open Government Partnership Action Plan, Chile commits to two projects concerning asset disclosure: one that focuses on integrity in public functions, and one voluntary disclosure of assets scheme to encourage citizen control by publishing asset declarations online.
Estonia will create a database of declarations of economic interests as part of its OGP Action Plan
Estonia is focusing parts of its Open Government Partnership Action Plan on actions to prevent corruption and conﬂicts of interest among public officials. Among the planned activities in this regard is the creation of a database of declarations of economic interests to be finalised by 2014.
Georgia developed an online system for public financial disclosure
In Georgia senior public officials are required to make annual disclosures of their assets. But until 2010 they did this in hard copy and the declarations were difficult for citizens to access.
In 2010, the Georgian government decided to develop an online system. All senior officials now submit their asset declarations through the Online Asset Declaration System on the website www.declaration.gov.ge. The submitted declarations are then published instantaneously into a searchable database from which anyone can search for senior officials’ declarations and download the information for free.
The Civil Service Bureau of Georgia (CSB), which is the agency responsible for collecting and publishing asset declarations, supports the asset declaration process by sending reminders to the officials via text messages and emails, and providing a hotline and online chat service to help with queries about asset declarations.
The CBS receives around 3000 electronic financial disclosures annually. It has also uploaded the hard copy declarations from 1998 to 2010 making the website the host of over 60,000 disclosure documents (although the early documents are only available as scanned pdf files).
In order to make the financial disclosure system online-base, CSB needed to take a number of actions. First, they had to assess the political situation, carry out political consultations, prepare amendments to the legislation and lobby the Parliament. When this was done, they designed the electronic asset disclosure system (the system design was outsourced at about USD 20,000 plus an annual maintenance cost of about USD 10,000). They then tested the system with focus groups, both citizen-based and focus groups based on senior officials, and provided training to administrative staff at CSB as well as HR representatives of each government agency.
After launching the system, CSB has continued to develop the system and adding more features to it. By the end of 2013, the Online Asset Declaration System will have a mobile phone interface. An evaluation tool to enable the public to make different analytical reports from the database will also be introduced. It also planned that a public financial disclosure monitoring mechanism will be introduced by the end of 2014.
Introducing the online asset declaration system in Georgia has been beneficial for several reasons:
- The public now has more information about the government;
- Watchdogs are in a better position to monitor the honesty and legality of incomes and expenditures of senior officials;
- The government has become more responsive, cleaner and less corrupt; and
- The online asset disclosure system has inspired other government agencies to launch similar e-governance projects.
The Georgian Public Disclosure System was the 2013 winner of the UN Public Service Awards for its excellence in preventing corruption.
Based on presentation by Irakli Kotetishvili, Director of the Civil Service Bureau of Georgia at an Open Government Partnership Webinar on 21 May, 2013
In India police officers are included in income and asset declaration requirements
The Home Ministry had directed all the officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) in the country to disclose their assets under the Immovable Property Return (IPR). State level governments have also directed police officers above the rank of Sub-Inspectors to disclose details of their income and assets. Those who fail to comply can be clearance for promotion and service medals. However high rates of non compliance continue to be reported.
Mexico has transitioned to online asset declaration
Mexico has transitioned to online asset declaration with the implementation of its Declaranet system. Mexico does not have a fully mainstreamed digital culture, so public servants were initially reluctant to abandon paper-and-ink disclosure forms. To overcome this reluctance, the government created an online instruction portal, provided tutorial sessions, created a toll-free call centre, and set up training centres to help filers declare their assets.
Moldova will develop an automated information system as part of OGP Action Plan
Moldova’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan includes a commitment to ensure transparency of information on income and property of senior officials, judges, prosecutors, and civil servants. As part of this commitment, Moldova will adjust its national legal framework to allow for online submission of income and property declarations of senior officials, judges, prosecutors, and civil servants. In addition, an automated information system for online filing of income statements of public officials will be developed, installed and launched.
Peru commits to strengthening the capacity of the Comptroller General to detect possible corruption as part of its OGP Action Plan
In its Open Government Partnership Action Plan, Peru has included a commitment to improve integrity in the public sector. Specific actions to this end include improving the regulatory framework governing income and asset declarations of public officials and employees of the State, as well as strengthening the capacity of the Comptroller General of the Republic to detect possible corruption. Actions also include proposing a specific regulatory scheme to prevent and detect conflicts of interest.
Russia makes summaries of assets disclosures available online
The Russian Federation recently started making summaries of the disclosures of public officials available online. Citizens can access them on the websites of the presidency, the government, and other institutions.
Rwanda’s Ombudsman carries out audits on randomly chosen asset declarations
The Office of the Ombudsman of Rwanda, established in 2003, is responsible for the collection of declarations and for monitoring submission compliance and verifying the accuracy of approximately six percent of the nearly 5,000 declarations it receives each year. The Office of the Ombudsman chooses which declarations to audit by targeting a portion of filers based on their position, and randomly chooses a sample of declarations to audit. These audits entail not only verifying that the assets and values declared match government and banking records, but also lifestyle checks and house visits.
[Source: World Bank]
Slovenia uses a random sampling method to test asset disclosures
The Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act from 2010 improved the system of oversight for assets disclosure in Slovenia. For example, it made provision for asset declarations to be chosen for content verification through a random selection process to identify which cases reveal a disproportionate increase in wealth or a discrepancy between the contents of the declarations and information contained in external registries. The number of declarations selected depends on the number of staff available to verify content and, therefore, may vary from year to year. In 2009, 33 percent of all declarations were selected to undergo verification, with a staff-to-declaration ratio of 1 to 413.
South Korea commits to monitoring post-public employment as part of its OGP Action Plan
In its Open Government Partnership Action Plan, South Korea has included a commitment to work towards a corruption-free society. Part of this commitment includes strengthening asset disclosure for public servants and monitoring restrictions on post-public employment.
Tanzania commits to strengthen asset disclosure regulation as part of its OGP Action Plan
In its Open Government Partnership Action Plan, Tanzania pledges to prepare legislative amendments and regulations to strengthen asset disclosures of public officials.
The Dominican Republic is committed to passing an asset declaration law as part of its OGP Action Plan
In its Open Government Partnership Action Plan, the Dominican Republic commits to enact an asset declarations and illicit enrichment law.
Ukraine will amend its law on asset disclosure as part of its OGP Action Plan
Ukraine’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan contains a commitment to prevent and combat corruption. Specific activities to this end include amending the law to ensure openness of data relating to property, income and expenditure returns, in particular through publishing details of returns by high profile officials at public bodies’ official web sites and disclosing data from returns of any public officer upon information request.