It’s that time of the year when a good number of workers, civil servants, government officials, soldiers, university & co-operative officials, among others, have to declare their income, assets & liabilities – or wealth for the year (November to November) by December 31. Major financial transactions over the past year are reduced to fit a four-page form:
- (page one) name, occupation, marital status, physical address.
- (page two) list all spouses and children under the age of 18.
- (page three) list all income (salary, income from rent, investments, kiosk, matatu etc.) and assets (home, car, kiosk, shares, TV.)
- (page 4 ) list all liabilities and other useful information, and have a witness sign the wealth declaration.
At the end of it all, your life should resemble a proper balance sheet. E.g. if you declare rental income, you should also declare ownership of the house you’re renting. If all one has is salary, the form can be filled in minutes.
The noble exercise stems from the Public Officers’ Ethics Act 2003, which was passed to call weed out corruption in the civil service by having officers declare their how their wealth the public officers ethics act and suspicious declarations could lead to investigation for corruption.
We got a talk from our company secretary who explained that implementation of the wealth declaration has been poor because:
- The exercise is enforced by the current public service commission (PSC) which remains toothless.
- All the PSC can do is collect completed forms and store them – they have no computers, staff, or capacity to analyse the returns.
- Information can’t be shared with spouses or the Kenya Revenue Authority or spouses who feel that someone is hiding assets or suspected of criminal behaviour.
- Returns are kept for 30 years, but none of the records are computerised, only stored in some huge warehouse. Plus everyone individual must file a separate return i.e. married couples must each file their own at work, while attaching a copy of their spouses return.
- Returns of senior officials are sealed and can’t be opened e.g. a minister could have submitted a blank return and no one will ever know or check.
- PSC collects all returns strictly E.g. if an office has 200 employees, 200 returns must be received by year-end.
- Or Else: the penalty for not complying with this pointless exercise can be brutal – PSC will immediately notify an employer, that their employee has not filed, and ask that you be struck off the payroll until you comply (which takes a minimum of 3 months to rectify). Otherwise, the maximum penalty can be a million shillings or a year in jail, or both.
- Even if you’re abroad e.g. working at the Embassy in Russia, you must file a return. Yet PSC will not put the forms online and insists that returns must be on their original forms, not photocopies.
- A new Ethics and Integrity Commission is contained in the proposed new constitution (section 99) which will ensure & investigate compliance with the Act and also make public assets & liabilities of public officials.
- Failing that, an amendment to the act will be tabled when parliament returns that will make the returns public information as well as other improvements.