Politicians anger Asmal

2009-09-22 22:40

Johannesburg - Former minister Kader Asmal on Tuesday questioned the ethics of politicians involved in business at the same time as they hold public office.

"I find this relationship inherently contradictory [a]s there arises the temptation to use political power for narrow personal interests," Asmal said at the launch of the Institute for Security Studies database of politicians' assets and interests.

Asmal said people involved in public life must, as a matter of public policy, disclose their business and other financial interests or benefits.

"More regrettable is that according to the public service commission, large numbers of senior civil servants do not register their disclosure forms, although it is a requirement."

Sudden wealth enrichment

He said disclosure was important to identify if there was a conflict of interest in relation to a public representative's dealings but also to deal with sudden wealth or enrichment which would warrant further enquiry.

Asmal said there were some aspects of enforcement which need to be addressed, if respect for politicians or democratic institutions was to be maintained.

He called for the removal of the confidential section in all systems.

"Disclosure is part of a wider ethics world. Therefore, each public representative should produce an income tax certificate each year," he added.

The professor also called for penalties to be raised and for prosecutions to be sped up.

Code of ethics

He outlined ways to encourage disclosures saying that it was important to promote the significance of ethics codes amongst members of Parliament and legislatures, national and provincial executives and councillors in metropolitan areas.

Asmal said their webportal project "Who owns what" was now complete and citizens were able to hold government accountable.

The page will enable the general public to access the details of the disclosures made by politicians on their financial assets and business interests.

"For the first time the publicly accessible disclosure forms of politicians will be made available through a searchable database.

"This online database is the result of two years of research, which has yielded almost 6 000 records submitted between 2004 and 2008 by elected members of government," Asmal said.

Useful tool

He said the exercise would be ongoing and there would be a collection of the disclosures annually, which will be uploaded onto the webportal.

The database is the first of its kind on the continent.

"I hope that it will prove a useful tool for researchers, civil society [and] the media. Ultimately I hope it will promote not only accountability of, but also integrity in, public life in South Africa."