A lot of fuss is being made about the law that would oblige state officials, deputies and senior civil servants to submit a capital statement as part of the battle against corruption. A previous law passed on the same issue was found to be unconstitutional so the government has submitted new bills having first sought the advice of the state legal services about their constitutionality, but during their discussion at Monday’s House legal affairs committee many reservations were expressed by deputies.
There were questions about the publication of the statements, whether next of kin would also have to submit them, which civil servants would be covered by the law and how the right to privacy would be affected. For instance, all civil servants above a certain rank would be obliged to submit a statement but not make it public. The president, ministers, deputies and their underage children would have to submit a statement and make it public as well. The Attorney-General advised that the issue of protecting privacy did not arise as the submission of a statement would become a requirement of holding a public post and people would know this in advance.
The bills, for unknown reasons, did not oblige the spouses of politicians, in contrast to their children, to give any information about their assets. There may be constitutional reasons for this but some deputies felt such an exemption defeated the object of the exercise. They had a point because corrupt officials could put all their ill-gotten gains in the name of their spouse. The justice minister said this matter could be discussed further but exempting spouses does seem like a gaping hole in the legislation.
It seems a bit naive to believe that a capital statement law would achieve the primary objective of eliminating corruption. If a politician is dishonest would he submit a capital statement with information about all his assets? If he has amassed a fortune from backhanders and bribery he is unlikely to keep the money in his bank account or invest it in expensive property in Cyprus. There are many ways of hiding personal assets and we are sure crooked officials hid their ill-gotten gains in the past even if there was no law obliging them to submit a capital statement. They will carry on doing the same after the law is passed, because it would not be a real deterrent.
Unfortunately we need much more drastic action than a law making compulsory the submission of a capital statement by a state official to tackle corruption.