THE issue of elected representatives declaring their assets to the public has always been a thorny one — lawmakers do not want to do it, while the voting public wants to know in the interest of integrity and honesty what their representative's assets are.
This is not an unusual demand, and in a democracy, people's leaders must have the courage to disclose their assets so that their financial dealings are transparent. The Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for all candidates to declare their assets.
Yet, this almost never goes according to scriptt.
Ministers in the Union cabinet, for instance, are not obligated to declare their assets.
There is, therefore, inherent mistrust that the electorate displays towards these politicians, more so when they are forced to declare their assets and the figures seem to defy common sense and even common knowledge.
There are ministers who have backgrounds as successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, yet their assets are of the class that would match those of any upper middle- class house owner in Delhi or Mumbai.
There are others who have served long terms as Union Ministers and even chief ministers, yet their assets are less than those of even the poorer Class IV employees.
For ministers to be honest about assets declaration there needs to be a law that specifies each and every aspect of the calculation of assets. One loophole that the current law has is that politicians are expected to declare only their direct income, whereas their investments and income from their spouses, companies, directorships in firms, etc, do not come under the purview of the EC's guidelines.
Disclosure norms have one other problem: politicians are not expected to declare their sources of income. So when MPs routinely show impressive wealth expansion during the five years they are in office, clearly the sources of incomes need to be trustworthy. They also need to be questioned.
It may be a good idea for the Union government to come up with a model format which would ensure that all the loopholes are plugged and that we will be comparing like with like. That declaration should be made publicly available and should provide a continuous record of the income and expenditure of a politician, and a clear profile of how their assets have been created. In this way, the rise in the value of fixed assets, like a house or a flat, which often tends to make people appear richer than they are, will clearly show up.