With so many allegations of corruption, of receiving bribes on the social media, it is understandable why Amos Chanda is against lifestyle audits and says ministers welcoming a lifestyle audit are frustrated.
Amos says a lifestyle audit was a way of telling people to surrender what they owned until they are proven innocent and warns that a lifestyle audit witch-hunt would destroy the country.
“I have no problem with a lifestyle audit but let me tell you this, you are not going to institutionalise a witch-hunt. We are very good in picking up high-sounding terminologies and putting them across. What’s the lifestyle audit? It’s to say that [neck] tie you are wearing in my judgement its K90,000, so prove to me that it’s not K90,000 but you will have to say it’s not K90,000 but we will have to send police so that you give a statement on oath that it’s not K90,000. What sort of country are we developing? I have heard Honourable [Stephen] Kampyongo, Honourable [Dr Brian] Mushimba, [Jean] Kapata… Let’s give it a thought, and these people are frustrated. That’s why they are telling you we welcome it. These people look guilty until proven innocent…that’s my position,” says Amos.
But a lifestyle audit is not a witch hunt as Amos claims.
A lifestyle audit is simply a study of a person’s living standards to see if it is consistent with his or her reported income.
Its purpose is to identify pointers to improper activity that has enabled the person to live beyond their means.
Lifestyle may be judged from things that are pretty public, such as a house, a car, a taste for extravagant food and drinks, holidays or expensive women (or men) which cannot be explained on the basis of what is known of the person’s resources. Other material may be less obvious such as the size of the person’s bank account. Some people can live apparent modest lives, preferring to hoard rather than spend their wealth.
Evidence of this sort is not conclusive, of course. A person might inherit a fortune, marry a wealthy spouse, or have a lucrative but unknown hobby. What it is useful for is to indicate, whose affairs might be worth investigating further.
Superficial appearances of the sort mentioned will be of limited help if a person has squirreled away their money in tax havens, or owns expensive buildings in far-off places, or perhaps buys very expensive jewellery that is worn only on very private occasions.
This could obviously be rather a time-consuming exercise and would require some expertise to conduct well. In fact, countries commonly carry out such exercises only for fairly senior public officials. Doing this for all government officials is not very practical.
There are many countries in which the assets of public officers are a matter of public record. You can, for example, read online about the assets of British MPs, including payments they receive for television appearances, or writing newspaper articles, and donations for their work, as well as houses they own.
Naturally, people don’t like it.
The general public has a legitimate interest in ascertaining that politics are transparent. We need more than lifestyle audits and other gimmicks to make a difference.