Notwithstanding no specific law mandating the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to engage the services of registered Nigerian Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) in the process of assets declaration, the professional body reiterated that its involvement would deepen the nation’s democracy, especially curb the wrong valuation of assets.
The institution’s submission came in the wake of the controversy surrounding the authenticity of some assets declared by the political elites and public officers.
NIESV bigwigs including the National President, Sir Rowland Abonta, immediate past president, Africa region, International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI), Chudi Ubosi, Chairman, Nigeria Chapter, Royal Institution of Surveyors (RICS), Gbenga Ismail, Casmir Anyanwu, and Olufemi Oyedele held that non-involvement of professional estate surveyors by the CCB was a disservice to the nation.
Sir Abonta told The Guardian that the entire process of assets declaration by public officers in Nigeria is faulty and defective; hence it has faced a lot of challenges to the embarrassment of the government and public officers themselves.
He said: “We saw a good number of such embarrassments and political blackmails in the last four years. A system that allows a public officer to fill a sheet of paper called asset declaration form in the comfort of his home, listing existing and anticipatory assets for himself with his/her own choice of value will never be authentic but deceitful.
“The laws on which this very important aspect of accountability and probity by public officers is based are also defective in making adequate provisions to ensure professionalism and transparency in the system.”
NIESV President explained that the process does not allow the participation of registered estate surveyors and valuers to perform their traditional role of verifying and valuing assets declared by public officers. “Every effort made in the last six years by the institution to play our statutory role as valuers in the declaration process even on pro bono was rejected by the government through the CCB.
“We also went to court to seek a declaration that it was not lawful for public officers to fix a value on their assets without a valuation certificate from a registered estate surveyor and valuer.
He called on the Code of Conduct Bureau to engage with the estate surveyors and valuers on the best way to authentic asset declaration by public officers.
Abonta also called for the review of the laws on assets declaration to make it more effective, reorganisation and properly funding of the bureau for efficiency as well as the establishment of a valuation department headed by a registered estate surveyor and valuer for its asset verification process, which they lack the required skill to do now.
Ubosi noted that except personal valuations of one’s assets are undertaken by a qualified professional it is difficult to be accurate.
“In a situation like our anyone declaring assets should show evidence that the various class of assets being declared has been valued by the right professionals. If for example, you are declaring shares in a private company, it should have the authentication of an Accountant. If it is real estate, an estate surveyor and valuers should authenticate the same.”
He stressed that the asset declaration is an ideal way to tackle corruption. “The government officials and people entrusted with public office do not enrich themselves using public funds instead of focusing on the task of meeting the expectations of their office. The fear of being accused of corruption through enrichment using public office forces the officials to be above board in the discharge of their duties whilst in office.
Speaking on the issue, Oyedele disclosed that the Estate Surveyors and Valuers Decree 28 of 1975 established estate surveyors and valuers and charged them with the valuation of all assets (land and building) inclusive.
“The appropriate steps that can be taken to ensure a genuine asset valuation is to engage estate surveyors and valuers in CCB assets declaration of political officers.
“The CCB Act 1991 stated that all public officers must publicly declare their assets and that all citizens of Nigeria should have access to this declaration. These provisions must be enforced. There should also be re-verification of public officers’ assets after leaving office,” Oyedele added.
For Anyanwu, “the asset declaration figures cannot be trusted as the declarant is not a valuer. The issue of asset declaration is an important factor in the fight against corruption in the public sector. A system where the government allows public officers to declare on their own what they are worth is a blank cheque for corruption.
He asserted, “for a credible and reliable asset declaration, a public officer or appointee should be made to declare his assets via an asset valuation report prepared by a registered estate surveyor and valuer appointed by the National Assembly or the relevant authority to ensure neutrality and independent opinion.
Anyanwu recommended that the government or the relevant authority should cede the responsibility of determining the asset value of public officers to the institution who will dispassionately and professionally assess the candidates’ asset base and produce reliable opinions that can be trusted.
According to him, the inaccurate asset declaration is damaging to the fight against corruption as the declarant may make an anticipatory declaration, which will cover him or her from prosecution. “Until the government began genuine and objective asset declaration in the public sector the fight against corruption in the public sector will continue to be a mirage.
“When appropriate valuations are done proper details are obtained and the history of the asset ascertained, ambiguity and sundry complications in ownership are eliminated,” he said.
Ismail said that CCB should have a mandatory template for asset declaration reporting and validating. “There must be a means to confirm that assets declared even exist. Our Green book is the most significant step in making a statement in providing credible valuations,” he added.