Why shouldn’t people's representatives submit their wealth statements?

All government employees are required to submit their wealth statements every five years and take permission from the higher authorities to buy or sell property according to the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules. But nobody is complying with this. The public administration ministry, importantly, has sent a letter asking all ministries and divisions to enforce the rules.

The letter said, “As per the article 11,12 and 13 of Government Servants (Conduct) Rules 1979, government employees are asked to made disclosure of buying and selling of immovable properties and submit their wealth statement.” The ministry also said the prime minister has directed the concerned ministries to enforce the relevant rules strictly to ensure good governance. The letter also attached a sample application form for permission to buy or sell property and a table for submitting the wealth statements.

Provisions for submitting wealth statements of government employees are also included in government service rule 2018 which was enacted by Awami League. The AL is in the power for 12 consecutive years. While AL is talking of ensuring transparency, accountability and integrity in every aspect of administration, there is no alternative to achieve that goal without wealth statements from the public servants. But both sides who will take and give wealth statements seem to have been deaf so far.

There are, however, exceptions too. Land minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury after taking the office in 2019, took initiative to bring the employees of his ministry under accountability. Wealth statements of third and fourth class employees were collected as per the initiative. A total of 17,567 third class employees and 17,208 fourth class employees submitted their wealth statements. Some 368 employees who were on departmental suspension or on leave could not submit their wealth statements. No matter how laudable the effort was, it was incomplete. The ministry could not collect wealth statements of the first class and second class employees since they are recruited by the public administration ministry.

If the land ministry can collect wealth statements of their employees, there is no reason why other ministries cannot. The question is whether they have the will. Collecting wealth statements is a prerequisite to ensure minimum transparency and accountability in government activities. Not only government employees, ministers-MPs too should submit their wealth statement. Awami League in its election manifesto in 2008 announced to make public the wealth statements of all public representatives including ministers-MPs and their family members. None except former finance minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith felt the need to disclose their wealth statement. This is a violation of the electoral pledge.

The government high-ups’ tried to hush up the issue by saying that the wealth statements of the ministers are submitted to the cabinet division. This is a clear violation of the pledge made to the people. Such a cover-up should not be made in case of the wealth statements of the government employees. Everything should be open to the people.