Towards a more efficient asset declaration system

The new system generates high-quality data by making it more user friendly and reducing unintentional human errors

SONAM PENJOR | Thimphu

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this week launched the revised Asset Declaration System to enhance and ease the burden on users, and improve efficiency in asset declaration administration and management.

The new system, which has new features like facilitating automated verification, will be used for the annual asset declaration for the calendar year 2021onwards.

A press release from the commission states that assets, income, and liabilities declaration as a public accountability mechanism is gaining prominence worldwide with increasing awareness and growing public outcry against corruption.

According to the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan (ACAB), 2011, asset declaration is exercised to detect and prevent illicit enrichment, facilitate the management of conflict of interest and promote public trust through greater accountability and transparency.

The project manager for the asset declaration system, Kinley Yangzom, said that since there are technical glitches in the old system, the new system will ease the burden on the users.

She said that the new system targets to enhance data integrity which was lacking in the old system. In addition, she said that users were also not truthful while filling out the asset declaration forms.

“To enhance the system, we have integrated external database and additional inputs so that we can enhance on the integrity part,” she said.

Kinley Yangzom added that the new system has not only incorporated additional functional and non-functional features but also included other extended capabilities like Application Programming Interface (API) configuration with external databases and security infrastructures.

According to her, the new system also has bi-lingual features, Dzongkha and English, to enable users in using relevant declaration forms which were not present in the old system. This is also to cater to users opting to use the dzongkhag forms.

On the whole, the new system generates high-quality data by making it more user-friendly and reducing unintentional human errors.

In addition, it is also expected to facilitate effective analysis and verification through enhanced analysis and report generation capabilities, and ultimately help strengthen enforcement.

She said the system design and its forms are also flexible and adjustable to accommodate any new add-on functionalities like changes in accordance with new rules or laws.

The ACC press release also states that the growing focus on the global economic impacts of corruption and the challenges of tracing stolen assets has intensified global interest in the links between effective asset declaration systems and the prevention, detection, and investigation of corrupt acts.

“A well-designed and well-managed asset declaration system have tremendous potential to contribute to broader anti-corruption efforts at the local and global level,” the press release states.

Meanwhile, the asset declaration system in Bhutan was formally instituted and adopted by the ACC in 2006 as one of the corruption prevention measures.

Section 38 (1) of the ACAB 2011 requires public servants or other individuals using public resources to prepare and declare their personal assets, income, and liabilities as well as those of their spouses and or dependents.

The act also provides for a range of other enforceable powers to the commission to administer this function effectively, including the power to ask private individuals to declare their assets, income, and liabilities whether or not such individuals are under investigation for an offense under the Act.

According to the commission, the system of declaring income, assets, and liabilities is to ensure that the custodians of public resources lead a lifestyle that is within their lawful means and provides an effective reminder to public officials on the duty of accountability that comes with public office.

In the last sixteen years since its institution, the ADS has evolved from the filing of declarations in hard copy to going online in 2010.

The commission said that numerous enhancements have also been made both in the rules and the online system to make it more effective and efficient with declaration compliance reaching almost 100 percent today.

However, ACC states that the enhancements could not achieve full functionality of the system because of the constant operational challenges particularly, limitations in the current online system and lack of effective strategies to verify the information.  

While there may still be substantial ground to be covered for the system to continue maturing towards fulfilling the important mandate, it states that the recent enhancement, especially the integration of external databases or systems, will enable wider verification.

ACC’s Chairperson, Deki Pema, said that since Bhutan is a signatory to the UNCAC, the declaration of assets is seen as a tool to prevent corruption.

The ACC Chairperson added that public servants and private employees will have to declare their assets as it is one of the ways to keep track of their assets and to prevent possible corrupt acts.