The role of income and asset disclosure in anti-corruption

Requiring public officials to provide lists of their assets and interests is one of the most effective means of preventing and identifying corruption. A distinction can be made between two types of disclosure systems: those which focus on lists of registered interests, and those which prioritise officials' income and assets. Despite their procedural similarity, the two systems play slightly different roles in restraining financial impropriety.  

Firstly, interest disclosure systems aim to flag up potential conflicts of interest to employees themselves, their managers, monitoring agencies and, where disclosures are made public, to civil society and the media. The consultative process of regular asset disclosure serves as a reminder to public employees about the need for probity and raises awareness of potential conflicts of interest. Disclosure can also inculcate behavioural norms, like integrity and honesty in public organisations, especially when it is supported at the highest levels.[1]  

Secondly, income and asset disclosure regimes aid the prevention, detection and prosecution of illicit enrichment by enabling verification of reported income against other registers (such as the land, vehicle and tax registers), previous declarations and lifestyle.[2] Financial disclosure therefore raises the costs of corruption and may make some officials less inclined to engage in illicit financial practices. Although income and asset regimes alone are unable to prevent unethical behaviour, systematic analysis of the data they collect can work as a trigger for investigations. In this way, financial disclosure supports a broader anti-corruption strategy, as well as asset recovery programmes.  

It is considered good practice to require public officials to declare their interests and financial assets. This can be done either by incorporating both procedures into a single disclosure mechanism or independently, as outlined in the above section on conflict of interest. The decision whether to amalgamate these processes or keep them separate should be at the discretion of the relevant national authorities and be made context-dependent.


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