Veteran lawyer Sir Hamid Moollan only speaks when he has something to say. Last time he made a public statement, it was to declare his opposition to the prosecution commission bill. Weekly approached him to talk about the complicated and thorny issue of the Declaration of Assets Act and other bills debated in parliament. He speaks little but says a lot. Read between the lines.
Last time you talked to us was when there was an attempt to enact the prosecution commission bill. Now, there is the Declaration of Assets Act. What do you make of it?
This is nothing new. It is something that has been rehashed again and again. The question is: who will declare what? Those who want to declare their assets have already done so and those who don’t have put them in someone else’s name anyway.
Are you saying the act won’t change anything?
It won’t make any difference. Those who are honest and are prepared to declare their assets have already done so. Those who have decided not to have already put their assets out of reach of such laws.
Is it that easy to hide one’s wealth?
Of course it is! You just need to put your assets in someone else’s name or in a trust. This is not the first time. It’s the second or third time we are talking about such a law.
This time the judiciary and high officials have been included.
It doesn’t matter. The same principle applies. Those who want to declare their assets will declare them and those who do not will find some way of not declaring them. There is no solution. It all depends on the honesty of the politicians. If a person is honest, they don’t need such compulsions; those who are dishonest will not declare anything and I don’t think there is very much to compel them to do so.
Is there any way the law could have been drafted to make it harder for politicians to cheat?
If you have a very stringent law and there is a whole system by which the declaration is made compulsory, then you have a chance. There is no such system. The law could work if failure to make the declaration is sanctioned, like not being allowed to stand as a candidate, for example. In that case, the law will have an effect. Not in its current form, it won’t.
What if you declared your assets before joining office and then at the end of your mandate and a comparison could be drawn. Wouldn’t that discourage corruption?
Not really! That depends on how honest the first declaration is and how honest the second one is. Otherwise, it’s all meaningless.
Does the fact that you have to declare your assets to the ICAC bother you?
It does! People don’t trust the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Apart from how far the ICAC will be independent and how far it will do its work properly, I don’t think the institution has the wherewithal to be able to make enquiries about whether the declaration is honest or not. It has neither the ability nor the knowhow to assess whether a declaration is honest or not. If I have already put a property in the name of my children, nobody will know I had that property. Once it is in the name of the children, how will the ICAC find out? Who will know? I might raise suspicions but that does not prove the fact legally.
So all this noise about an act that will force politicians to be transparent and discourage corruption is for nothing?
The declaration of assets act is for a show.
Including the fact that it was pushed through parliament at the speed of light?
It’s not how fast you read it; it’s what you put in there that is important.
Isn’t what they put in there good enough?
I don’t see anything they have put in that law to make it impossible for somebody not to declare their assets at all. I have never taken the concept of such a law very seriously. It’s just fooling oneself.
Was there another way of having a serious law to seriously fight corruption?
There are 200 ways of fighting corruption through a declaration of assets but that depends on how deep you want to go and how you want third parties to delve into your own assets. The act that was presented in parliament is not one of them. If everybody were to declare their assets honestly and fully, yes, but there are several cases where we already know it won’t be done. This is not the first time we are talking about this.
Some people say that our assets should be declared to the president. Would that make any difference?
It would make no difference so long as the person you are declaring it to does not have the means to check that.
Isn’t it better than having to declare your assets to the ICAC?
I think for the time being, the ICAC has got a very bad press.
A bad press or a bad reputation?
It boils down to the same thing. People don’t trust them.
Rightly or wrongly?
That I don’t know. What I do know is that the ICAC does not have the means to find out whether the declarations made by politicians and public officials are honest or not.
The means or the will?
The perception is that they have neither the means nor the will.
What about the financing of political parties?
That’s a separate issue entirely. However, to me it’s a useless law as well because you cannot control the limit of finances drawn or ensure that what is being said is correct.
You must admit that the law will be able to control the money paid to the opposition, won’t it?
You can control it up to 50%, 60% or 70%, but never 100%.
But isn’t 50% better than 100%?
No, because finances can be used in a hundred different ways and so whatever you are paying for, you can say it comes from that fund. How do you check that?
The electoral commission will be entrusted with checking.
Who are they? 50-60 people? In every election, you have hundreds of people as candidates. Will the commission go around checking all of them? As a group, they are not equipped to control that. If we want to control political party financing, we need to devise a special body to look into only that.
Aren’t you satisfied that at least there is an attempt at controlling the huge war chests of political parties?
Let me put it this way: Each one of those parties has its funds. Have they declared where those funds come from? Ask yourself the question: How was the Sun Trust building put up? Where did the money come from? We don’t know and we will never know. To have a law, you have to have the wherewithal to implement it.
You have always avoided the public light. The last time you said something in public was to oppose the prosecution commission bill. Why?
That was based on a principle that was bad in any event. Therefore, I said so.
Last time you talked to then-Vice Prime Minister Xavier Duval about the prosecution commission bill, he ended up not voting for it and leaving government instead. Are you happy with the influence you have had on such an important issue for the country?
I don’t consider myself important enough to take credit for that. I just tell people what I feel and then it’s up to them to take decisions.
Is there a law that you would like to see that would make a difference to the country?
If we had a law related to the financing of parties which you can make sure is honestly applied, fair enough. But I have not seen that.
Do you think that a law like access to information would make things more transparent?
It will be the same thing. You don’t know how much is being revealed and how much is being hidden. Unless you know that, the law would be meaningless. At the end of the day, it’s the integrity of people that is important, not the number of meaningless laws!
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