Friday, March 24, 2006

The financial disclosure law

The financial disclosure law has long been advocated as a tool for combating corruption. The concept is to make sure that people who accept leadership posts in the government don't become wealthy due to their positions. Jordanians have long noted how previously poor or middle class people become rich after accepting a post as a minister or high government post. Because money can be made without a paper trail (through commissions, bribes and kickbacks), people who are suspected of being corrupt most often get away with it because of the lack of legal instruments to investigate the sources of their newly earned wealth.

A few years back, the lower house approved the financial disclosure law. The law simply states that people who accept certain positions should report to a special bureau their own, their spouses and their minor children's assets upon accepting their post. The records are to be sealed. In the event that allegations of impropriety arise, these records are opened and if substantial new assets are gained, then questions as to their source must be answered.

The law was shelved in the senate until recently. A couple of days ago, the legal committee approved it, but only after recommending stripping of essential components. They exempted judges and members of parliament (both houses), as well as the spouses and the children of officials who would be covered by the law.

Now, it seems to me that this law is actually a tool to protect civil servants from allegations of impropriety. Character assassinations are quite easy to commit, and the only way that people who accept high posts to protect their reputations is through such a mechanism. The only reason that people would be afraid of such a law is if they have something to hide. Exempting people who stand to gain illegally from their positions (including judges, senators and MP's) actually expose them to allegations of impropriety which would be difficult to disprove. Moreover, exempting spouses and minor children of executive officials would be a loophole through which money can be hidden. The exemption of parliamentarians was based on a constitutional clause which can be overcome, if the desire to do so exists (as argued eloquently by Ayman Safadi).

The long delay in the senate and the recommendations of their legal committee suggests that they don't like the idea. Their behavior suggests that they have something to hide. There is no better way to prove their integrity than to fully embrace the law and pass it without the modifications of the legal committee. Otherwise, the whole reason for having the law would be lost. This would be a shame both for the public, but more importantly for the reputations of honest public officials.



At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true...
Now I do not doubt here the nobelty of members of the parliament, ministers board and their families...but the facts speak for themselves...


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