Already, some ministers–designate are beginning to test public opinion on the matter of whether or not to declare their assets publicly. Some of them are suggesting that they are not bound to follow the lead of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
They argue that the constitution only requires them to make the declaration to the Code of Conduct Bureau and not public.
Feelers from the Presidency itself indicate that it was not in a position to compel the ministers to declare their assets publicly. In a way, the presidency may be right about its position on the matter. It is probable that the constitution is not making this demand on this group of public officers. It is also possible that it did not happen in the past that the ministers had to declare their assets publicly.
For the purpose of this discourse, let us even assume that the above scenario applies…
But members of the public may be compelled to make this demand on the officers aspiring to serve them regardless of what the constitution and the code of conduct say. In making that demand, the public may rely on the pledge by the ruling party that it is in power to bring about a change in certain attitudes so as to depart from the previous ways things were done in public life.
Besides, it is our view that on some issues, public will can override even the constitution. If it happens now and the ministers declare their assets publicly as is being demanded, the constitution and the law that set up the code of conduct bureau can be amended to formalise the process in line with the dictates of public opinion.
The public is morally bound to insist that since the office of the minister is a major organ for managing its resources, incomes and expenditures, it is proper for it to know that it can vouch for the integrity of those it is handing over such affairs to.
By civil service rules, the Permanent Secretary is the ministry’s chief accounting officer. But that is in theory because Nigerians know that no permanent secretary can disburse or dispense with one kobo without the minister’s say so. That has been made even more obvious in this Buhari administration where without ministers for almost six months, not much has been done in the ministries as most things require ministerial approval. If they are this important, is it not appropriate for the public to know who they are and what they owned prior to assuming office to enable it to do a comparative assessment of their possession before and after office? The issue here is moral not legal integrity.
There has been much talk about corruption in public offices and ways to check it. The ministries are always where the focus is. Anyone denying this fact is not sufficiently sincere. The ministers, as the political heads of their ministries, supervise the multibillion naira projects scattered across the country. The public has the right to know if they dipped their fingers in the till inappropriately while in office. To that extent, we are strongly of the opinion that, the public declaration of assets by ministers can neither be personal nor discretional.