In a bid to invoke transparency, earn the citizen’s trust and fight corruption (in its many forms), virtually all the countries of the world (World Bank puts the statistics at over 150 countries) provide a structured medium for ensuring that elected, appointed, recruited or contracted public officials make their assets known to the public (for Nigeria, public officials are expected to do so within 30 days of picking the Asset Declaration Form).
Being the norm, whatever information acquired via this declaration is made available to the public for further scrutiny if the official is a high-level official. Otherwise, the declarations are made confidential until there is a need for it. For Nigeria, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is the body charged with the responsibility of issuing public officials the Asset Declaration Form and making sure they stick to the guidelines while filling it.
The current method of asset declaration employed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, is it capable of providing us with a true reflection of our public officials’ assets? Is the government missing out on important information as a result of their valuation technique? Is the Asset Declaration Form serving the intended purpose? Are there loopholes in the procedures for filling this form? We will attempt to do justice to these questions as we proceed.
The current declaration form issued by the CCB gives our public office holders the responsibility of listing their assets (including that of their spouse (s) and children under the age of 18) and giving it a value. Does anyone know how they arrived at the value they give to their property? Are all the parameters involved in valuing a property duly considered before the value is fixed? And most importantly, who is the professional fixing these values?
The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) and Estate Surveyors and Valuers Registration Board of Nigeria (ESVARBON) and its members are the only professionals vested with the power of evaluating properties and placing value on them after a careful consideration of virtually all the variables that determines the market value of such assets. Aside from the number of years they have spent learning the curves and mastering the ropes of property valuation and its sister courses from academic institutions and the wealth of experience these individuals have acquired from their day-to-day dealings with properties of different variables, members of these two bodies are made to write additional examinations so as to ensure that the best practices are applied at all times.
From the preceding paragraph, we can see that proper valuation of property is not a mundane task that can be easily executed by every Tom, Dick and Harry with basic knowledge of arithmetic. Studying a real estate related course does not also confer the power to value a property on an individual.
With the amount of knowledge and practice required to become a Valuer, can we now agree that valuation cannot be executed by any individual or firm without the licence to practice? Without a valuation certificate (which can only be issued by a registered valuation firm), any value provided by public officials is an unverified data that could either be under-reported or over-reported. Such values can easily pass for a cooked-up figure.
The main reason for introducing asset declaration to our public officials is to further ensure transparency, reduce conflicts of interest and to a great extent reduce the possibility of abusing the public office. By allowing public officials to value their assets without involving a professional valuer, we have already created a loophole which can defeat the need for an asset declaration form and enhancing the very corrupt practices we intend to curb.
How do we prevent public officials from exploiting this loophole while declaring their assets? Well, the only way forward is to make it binding on all public officials to submit their asset declaration form with a valuation certificate or report from an Estate Surveyor or a Valuing firm that is duly registered under NIESV and ESVARBON.
With an attached valuation certificate or report, we can be assured that the evaluation procedures are not circumvented and all the variables (some of which are; the date of the valuation, the basis of the valuation, the location of the valued property and its depreciation/appreciation rate) are dully considered by a Valuer before value is placed on an asset.
By Lansar Aghaji & Co (Estate Surveying and Valuation Firm)