As Liberia continues to make progress towards harnessing and leveraging the technologies of the 21st century, my musings have turned to thinking about solutions to some of the issues which have bedeviled us and our governance.
In a series of posts I will ask and try to answer some questions which have vexed us. I am persuaded it is not enough to say "this is what is needed;" we must answer what, why, and how. I am not an economist, I am a technologist. We look at questions and try to provide solutions based on process, policy, and technology. This is what this post is attempting to do. I invite all Liberians to make this a vigorous discussion.
This particular topic today deals with how we can implement a reliable asset declaration protocol which will allow the government to attest to the veracity of the asset declarations made by government officials.
WHAT ARE ASSETS?
An asset is anything to which a monetary value can be attached. The issue with assets in Liberia is that it seems people employed by the government seem to be able to increase the amount of assets they have at a rate that far outpaces their salaries. The government has no reliable mechanism for establishing the value of a person's assets before he/she enters government, and no reliable mechanism for establishing their value after they leave office. As a result, prosecution, which relies on facts is next to impossible.
There are several components required for this protocol to work, three of the most important are:
- There must be means of establishing ownership of assets which is non-refutable.
- There must be a legal framework, thru the legislative process, that establishes the use of identifiers and technology to ensure such a system is trustworthy and reliable.
- There must be a legal framework which ensures the ability of all the government agencies, required in the verification process, to communicate electronically effectively and efficiently.
ESTABLISHING ASSET OWNERSHIP WITH A SINGLE ENTITY IDENTIFIER(SEI)
In order to establish the ownership of an asset, we must have the ability to issue universal identification numbers to every entity (individual or corporate entity) that can own said asset. This single entity identifier can be separated into two distinct groups, with different government agencies taking ownership and management of the groups:
Group I: The Single Person Identifier (SPI) - In every developed country there is an identifier that distinctly identifies every individual. It is a one to one relationship, and it is non-refutable. In the United States, this is called the Social Security Number.
For the purposes of Liberia, we can also use the social security number, and the logic is simple: Every person, at one time or another will have to interact with the national social security corporation. As such, every person born in Liberia, every person who works in Liberia must have a social security number. This must be mandated by law.
What the social security number will allow us to do is to distinguish between Mary Blapoh from Ganta, and Mary Blapoh from Logan Town, even if they were both born on the same day.
NASSCorp already has in place the system to verify identities and issue social security numbers.
Every asset, bank accounts, property deeds, business ownership (whole or partial) must have a social security number(s) attached to it, in a uniform manner in computer systems. Those systems must, by law, allow for the query and response, of that data, to establish the identity of an applicant for any of the above kinds of services.
For example, if Mary Blapoh (Ganta) wants to open a bank account, she must present her indentification and social security credentials to the bank. The bank, in turn, must be able to send an electronic query to NASSCorp seeking to establish the veracity of Mary Blapoh's credentials. Once the bank receives an affirmative response, the account, with Mary Blapoh's SSN can be opened. The same scenario would work for any other type of service.
Group II: Business Entity Identifier
This type of identifier is given to every registered business by the Revenue Bureau of the Ministry of Finance when a business is registered. However, since businesses are owned by individuals, the social security numbers of the owners must be attached to the incorporation documents. There must also be procedures to change the ownership percentages, in a filing that can be done electronically.
The challenges now for the government are to institute the legislation, begin the process of issuing social security numbers to every Liberian citizen and non-citizens doing business in Liberia, and affixing a social security number(s) to all asset records.
This process, in my opinion, can be accomplished in 24-36 months and includes legislation, system updates, and account updates.
Any entity that is the holder of records of assets, must have the ability to respond to an electronic query for records tied to a specific social security number. This means if the government wants to do an asset verification on an individual, it can send out a query to the banking sector for all accounts owned by a specific SSN; it can send a query to the National Archives for all property records owned by that SSN; it can query its corporate registration database for all corporations owned in whole or in part, by that SSN.
Lastly, because these protocols are already established in the developed world, any person who previously lived outside Liberia, must provide the government with the authority to do asset verifications on his/her foreign identifiers.