5. Setting standard for the receipt of gifts
The problem of receiving gifts
During their career, public officials may encounter a situation in which they are offered a gift or hospitality. While gifts and bribes may seem easy to distinguish at first, they could experience a situation in which it is difficult to judge whether a gift is simply a gift or whether it is intended to influence a decision.
The difference between a gift and bribe
- Gift: Something of value given without the expectation of return
- Bribe: Something of value given with to influence a public official in the execution of his/her official duties
Gifts and bribes can be money or actual items such as tickets to a sporting event, rounds of golf or meals. Whether intended to influence or not, accepting a gift will affect the relationship with the supplier in most cases by influence an official’s objectivity. The receipt of gifts, or other non-monetary benefits, including rewards or offers of hospitality, can create a conflict-of-interest. When a "gift" is given or accepted – regardless of the intention of the gift-giver - it can give the wrong impression to the public and can blur the lines of integrity, fairness and reduce trust.
You can go through some questions to identify whether giving or receiving a gift could be potentially a bribe:
- Genuine: Is this gift genuine in appreciation for something I have done in my role as a public official, and not requested or encouraged by me?
- Independent: If I accept this gift, would a reasonable person have any doubt that I could be independent in doing my job in the future, especially if the person responsible for this gift is involved or affected by a decision I might make?
- Free: If I accept this gift, would I feel free of any obligation to do something in return for the person responsible for the gift, or for his/her family or friends/associates?
- Transparent: Am I prepared to declare this gift and its source, transparently, to my organisation and its clients, to my professional colleagues, and to the media and the public generally?
Reacting to a gift
Public officials might find themselves in a situation in which it is difficult to reject the gift as it would be impolite. Therefore, public authorities should develop clear and consistent protocols for all employees to follow in the event that a gift or benefit is offered to them or their employer. This is particularly important where employees are involved in procurement functions, sponsorship or commercial dealings with the private sector. Preferably, public officials should decline a gift politely unless this would cause offence. When officials can’t decline a gift, they should declare the gift to their employer who should record the receipt of the gift and take appropriate steps.
Key points to remember
- A gift does not equal a bribe
- Gifts can create a conflict of interest, if expectations are attached to it
- Public officials should decline gifts or declare the gift to their employer