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Misuse of Government Assets/Property: A Crime, A Concern

March 16, 2015 By Abubakarr Turay

Quite recently, the Majority Leader in Parliament Hon. Ibrahim Bundu was quoted in the media raising concerns over the manner in which some public officers misuse government property, a major concern to many well-meaning Sierra Leoneans.

According to the National Assets and Government Property Commission Act 1990, Government property includes “real estate and any interest therein, chooses in action, stocks, shares, and debentures, vehicles, equipment, furniture or other immovable or movable property belonging to the government, or provided for the use of any government establishment, service or department”. Simply put, such property would include government vehicles, computers, furniture, etc.

Many a time, public bodies complain of lack of funds and logistics to enable them function effectively. The problem however with these Government entities is not the lack of resources, but the poor management of resources at their disposal.

The National Assets and Government Property Commission Act and the subsequent establishment of the National Assets and Government’s Property Commission is one of the steps taken by Government to keep track of its assets and property and protect them from misuse.

The Anti-Corruption Act 2008 also stipulates that “any person who fraudulently or otherwise unlawfully damages public property, including causing a computer or any other electronic machinery to perform any function that directly or indirectly results in a loss or adversely affects any public revenue or service commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than thirty million Leones or to imprisonment for a term not less than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment”.

In 2010, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) developed the ‘Best practice guide on the use of government vehicles, government quarters, telephones, computers and other office equipment’. This is in line with the Commission’s mandate (as provided by the Anti-Corruption Act) to “examine practices and procedures of public bodies in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices or acts of corruption and to secure revision of those practices and procedures which, in the opinion of the Commission, may lead to or be conducive to corruption or corrupt practices”. The ACC therefore saw the need to develop the guide to address the misuse of Government property, which the National Anti-Corruption Strategy sees as one of the key corruption issues in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of Government.

The best practice guide provides for, among other things, responsibilities of drivers and public officers who use Government vehicles, parking time for vehicles, use of log books, eligibility for occupation of Government quarters and responsibility of occupants, use of official telephones and computers; and penalties for defaulters. After the launch of the guide by the ACC, it was expected that all MDAs would implement and mainstream its contents in their respective entities.

However, it is disturbing to see that five years on after the launch of this vital document, many public officers still show little regard for its contents. To illustrate this, you need to visit building sites where you will see Government vehicles being used to transport sand, granite and other building materials for private building projects. The most disheartening thing is when you further realize that any breakdown of the vehicles during these unofficial assignments will mean a maintenance cost that will be incurred by the Government.

This is why the ACC continues to remind and call on the top managements of MDAs to mainstream anti-corruption measures in their workplace. Mainstreaming improves service delivery and enhances value for money. The use of the best practice guide will save Government property from abuse and maximize output in service delivery.

The top managements of MDAs therefore have a major role in this respect. They should be seen as the role models in their establishments. They should not only ensure proper record keeping of Government property, but also ensure that such properties are prevented from misuse. In a situation where there is a flagrant misuse of Government property, administrative sanctions should be invoked or referrals made to the ACC for the law to take its course.

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