14 December 2012

Parliament has adjourned for the summer so Christmas must be upon us. This is the time of year-end festivities. Gifts start arriving in agencies.  Cherries sent to my chief executive were being offered about my Office yesterday.

Gifts may well be sent with a sense of collegiality, of joyful recognition of working effectively together.  There may seldom be improper motivation.  However, there may be a reasonable public perception of a possible obligation or potential conflict of interest.  That is why transparency is essential, why there is a need to model openness, and why the required standard is to publicly disclose the acceptance of any gifts.

For the last three years, the State Services Commissioner has reminded agency chief executives of the need to make an end of year return on expenses, gifts and hospitality.  The usual guidance has not yet been posted on the SSC website, but the assumption is that all agencies will have processes underway in anticipation of an end of January publication on www.data.govt.nz.

The expectation also will be that agencies will be reminding staff of the way Christmas gifts and hospitality must be managed.

Disclosure is not an assurance of probity, but openness has a moderating effect on self interest.

The Auditor General is rigorous in opposing the acceptability of gifts that have any commercial value. Her guidelines “…require receipt of gifts, except for inexpensive gifts that are openly distributed by suppliers and clients, to be disclosed, to be recorded in a gifts register, and to remain the property of the entity…”

The State Services Commissioner has indicated dissatisfaction in the past with the way agencies manage gift receipts. The code of conduct has a standard that  “…We must decline gifts or benefits that place us under any obligation or perceived influence…” The explanation includes that “…there will usually be perceptions of influence or personal benefit if we accept gifts, hospitality or ‘quid pro quo’ exchanges of favours. We must not seek or accept favours from anyone, or on behalf of anyone, who could benefit from influencing us or our organisation. Organisations’ policies on accepting gifts and hospitality vary, depending on their business. In all cases, it is expected that gifts will only be accepted following a transparent process of declaration and registration. To avoid misperceptions, it is essential that the process is public…”

 The United State Office of Government Ethics has restated obligations regarding gift giving and receiving with the following light hearted reinforcement. 


The holiday season – a time for good cheer!
For egg nog, for parties, for friends to be near.
But I must be careful
Lest I accept free
A gift not permitted, no matter how wee.

Part two six three five of the 5 CFR
Explains in detail the relevant bar.
It defines the term gift
To mean all things worth money.
That’s NBA tickets or jars full of honey.

Some gifts may be taken but some are verboten.
The source is the key – it’s the rule that I’m quotin’.
When from me or others
The source seeks some act,
I must find an exception or I could be sacked

Even others who give can cause problems for me.
If my job prompts the giving – my position, you see.
But lucky for me,
Some exceptions exist.
They’re in subpart B and should not be missed.

I can pay market value if the gift I do like,
Or I can at my option say “go take a hike.”
I can always say no,
But I need not decline.
If worth twenty or less then the gift can be mine.

This exception has prompted some very loud hollers.
It says gifts are okay if worth twenty dollars.
But surely the public
Is certain to see,
I could never be bought for a sandwich and tea.

Restrictions apply so it does not suffice
To pay twenty bucks for a gift twice the price.
And in any one year
I can’t use it, of course,
To go over the limit – fifty dollars per source.

For gifts that a friend or my sister might send,
The rules recognize I don’t want to offend.
Regardless of value,
It only must be
That their motive to give wasn’t business, but me.

The rule’s much the same in the case of my spouse
Who happens to work as she can’t stand our house.
Although her employer
Is one of those sources,
I can go to their fete and avoid more divorces.

In the case of most parties, the rule’s not so clear
As the agency must have an interest, I fear.
If worth more than twenty
And it’s no friend true,
Then I’d better seek guidance or I could be blue.

When foreign officials are giving the gift,
The rules are less strict so I don’t cause a rift.
I can take it if
Fair market value U.S.
Is three hundred fifty dollars or less.

I can give to my boss to a limit of ten –
A baseball, a cap, or a blue ballpoint pen.
If not to my boss
Or my chain of command,
To a friend I can give more without being canned.

I always look forward to my office party.
We’re all in good moods and the food is so hearty.
If no arm is twisted,
Collecting is okay
To make sure that everyone has a good day.

But finally, how would these rules affect me
If I served the President as “appointee”?
I know that appointees
Must sign when they’re hired
A short ethics pledge (or they risk being fired.)

The same rules apply to a person who signed
Except there’s an extra gift rule that’s enshrined:
No gifts from a source
Listed as “lobbyist” –
Though no friend or kin is required to be dissed.

So go forth with good cheer and know there’s no reason
To think that the gifts rules will ruin your season