Friday, August 5, 2011

Ministers' financial interests unveiled

Ministers' financial interests unveiled
Aug 05 2011 17:47

Cape Town - About three-quarters of the cabinet's 35 members have financial interests outside their main occupation and so do 59% of the country's 400 members of parliament.

The findings were released on Friday by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) through its Who owns What Database.

ISS senior researcher Collette Schulz-Herzenberg said there was a trend that many publicly elected officials and senior management in the public sector appear to have financial interests, including directorships of companies, that are not part of their main function or office.

This information was gathered from disclosure forms that public representatives had to complete and the ISS had received from the relevant authorities.

Cabinet members who are also members of parliament were included in the National Assembly total and so may be double-counted, but Schulz-Herzenberg said that the levels of disclosure were higher for members of the executive than for ordinary MPs.

She pointed out that the ISS had so far received 9 000 disclosure records that were filled in by various public officials from 2004 until 2010 including that of President Jacob Zuma, and so far the information received varied greatly in quality and levels of disclosure.

Using Zuma's disclosure as an example, the record indicated that he had received gifts form various heads of state, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and US President Barak Obama.

"However, what it worrying is that President Zuma's own forms do not say what companies he is a director of or not as those fields are completely blank," Schulz-Herzenberg.

The aim of the ISS Who Owns What Database is to make public officials more transparent in their private business dealings, and so make them more publically accountable.

Schulz-Herzenberg said there was an ongoing misconception about what constitutes a conflict of interest and that it was not purely about financial disclosure.

"It could include the use of one's political office, or being located close to those in power, or nepotism, or favouritism, or the use of one's own property to gain advantage," she said.

Schulz-Herzenberg said there were a number of grey areas where transgressions of public interest can and do occur and what was acceptable conduct.

"This tool would give the public a practical means to access thousands of records that largely existed only on paper to work out conflicts of interest in public life," she said.

Schulz-Herzenberg said the idea of the database was not something new as it was mooted by the late Kader Asmal, whom she described as the architect of ethics regulation who prompted those in power to be mindful of the importance of ethical conduct in public life.

Deputy Public Protector Mamiki Shai said: "Disclosure was not only about economics but about civil society functioning. Disclosure improves the public's understanding of their role in governance and in protecting their investment in government and public funds."

Shai said the public was not participating in holding public officials accountable in the way they should be.

"Ask anyone about tax money and they have difficulty conceptualising government money as that of the labour of those working. Every taxpayer should understand that government money is their money and should be accounted for," Shai said.
Read more about: sa economy | kader asmal | jacob zuma

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