Guidance on acceptance of gifts, benefits and gratuities
23 October 2002
To All Chief Executives
Recently my staff have received a number of calls asking whether public servants may accept personal gifts and benefits in the course of their employment. As this is an important matter, and these enquiries suggest some inconsistencies in practice, I want to reinforce the minimum standards I expect from departments and public servants.
I accept that the last few years have seen many changes in the environment in which public servants work. We are expected to manage networks of stakeholders, and businesses are more competitive and active in attracting and retaining customers. These and other changes have increased the range and frequency of benefits and gifts offered to public servants.
The New Zealand Public Service Code of Conduct is clear about how public servants are expected to respond to offers of gifts or gratuities:
Public servants must not abuse their official position for personal gain. They must not solicit or accept gifts, rewards or benefits which might compromise their integrity and the integrity of their department and the Public Service.
As a general rule, a public servant should not accept a gift (whatever its nature or value) if the gift could be seen by others as either an inducement or a reward which might place the employee under an obligation to a third party.
Where offers of gifts or inducements are made, they should be reported by the public servant to his or her manager or chief executive, who will determine the appropriate response. A public servant who accepts a gift should declare the gift to their manager or chief executive for a decision on final disposal.
Gifts or benefits can range from one-off offers of small gifts to ongoing discounts on goods and services. While a blanket ban on the acceptance of gifts and benefits may be impractical, there is a clear limit to what is acceptable and what is not. A bottle of wine at Christmas for the office may be acceptable - family tickets to a show or ongoing personal discounts from a supplier are not.
How should public servants make the decision about where to draw the line? The monetary value of the gift or benefit is not the only factor in deciding whether or not it should be accepted. The commercial influence, actual or perceived, that the gift or benefit may represent is also important. For that reason, where a supplier has won a contract for the provision ofgoods and services to a department (or departments), the supplier should not offer personal discounts to employees of that department. Nor should public servants accept them. They could be seen both as a reward for letting the contract and an inducement to maintain the commercial relationship.
Other considerations are:
- how the gift or benefit would look to an outside party;
- the reasons for the gift or benefit being offered;
- the frequency of the gift - even a small gift or benefit given repeatedly may be of concern;
- whether the gift displays a company or organisation logo; and
- the value or importance of the gift or benefit to the employee.
This letter has not been prompted by any particular episode. But in light of some enquiries to my staff I am taking the opportunity to make my expectations clear, and to ask you to consider reviewing your gifts and benefits policies and practices in light of this advice.
State Services Commissioner