Personal financial asset disclosures remain one of the most potent but underutilized transparency and anti-corruption tools in the “good governance” toolkit. The reasons for their underuse are not surprising: accurately disclosing the income and assets of political figures and senior government officials can raise sensitive questions about the sources of personal wealth. Meanwhile, little to no attention has been paid to the establishment of best practices in the area of asset disclosures, and in some situations there may be legitimate privacy and/or security concerns associated with fully disclosing an official’s assets or sources of income.
The core objective of any effective asset disclosure regime is to provide a deterrent against bribery, collusion, and patronage in the public sector. While effective asset disclosure regimes can occasionally serve as real-time operational tools for internal government watchdogs (such as through the discovery of irregularities during audits of asset disclosures), their primary purpose is to increase the potential costs facing key public officials who might consider accepting bribes or kickbacks from third parties with interests before the government. They simultaneously can inspire public confidence in the leadership by providing concrete evidence that key officials are not “on the take”.
Despite the lack of agreed international standards on personal asset disclosure requirements, a growing body of work to assess the existence and effectiveness of asset disclosure regimes in countries around the world points to a set of core principles that could be considered by governments seeking to adopt robust, effective disclosure regimes.