14 October 2011

The editorial in the Dominion Post today revisits the disregard for gift and hospitality policies at the Treasury.  It makes the inevitable linkage between an inadequate policy for managing retail deposit guarantees and a willingness of staff to be entertained by the industry that it regulates.

The editorial illustrates why integrity is expected of all who work in government agencies.  Reputational harm is just a bout of bad behaviour away. The editorial should be compulsory reading for all in leadership positions. Few are likely to read the Deloitte report. Fewer still are likely to be familiar with relevant guidance published by the State Services Commissioner and the Auditor General.

The spotlight on the Treasury could illuminate equally poor practices in many agencies.  All should be adopting the good practice recommended by SSC and to which the Treasury is now committed; of requiring gifts and hospitality to be recorded on an intranet register  and periodically published. 

Some key points identified on page 13 the Deloitte report have undiminished application throughout the State sector:

  • “The requirement to decline gifts or benefits that place us under any obligation or perceived influence” (Standards of Integrity and Conduct)
  •  “There will usually be perceptions of influence or personal benefit if we accept gifts, hospitality or “quid pro quo” exchanges of favours” (Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for State servants)
  •  “It is expected that gifts will only be accepted following a transparent process of declaration and registration…it is essential that the process is public” (Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for State servants)
  •  “Offers of hospitality, as with gift offers, must always be assessed in terms of the purpose of the donor” (Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for State servants)
  •  “Receiving hospitality is usually inappropriate if it extends beyond courtesy” (Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for State servants)
  •  “Clear processes for registering conflicts, declaring gifts and benefits, and proper use of organisational resource should, for example, be the accepted and expected way things are done” (Implementing the Code of Conduct – Resources for Organisations)
  •  “Public servants must not…solicit or accept gifts, rewards or benefits which might compromise, or be seen to compromise, their integrity and the integrity of their department and the public service” (Public Service Code of Conduct (previous version of the Code of Conduct).

Collective squirming at the Treasury is a reminder to us all that trust is hard earned and easily spent.