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Behaving Ethically- 2.1 Managing Gifts and Benefits

Gifts and benefits – the risks

In the course of their work, NSW government employees – or, occasionally, their families, relations, friends or associates – may be offered gifts or benefits by customers, clients, applicants, suppliers, or other persons or organisations.

Most gifts and benefits are intended simply as a memento or a small token of appreciation – for example, a book or coffee mug presented to a speaker at a conference. Accepting a gift or benefit of this kind is unlikely to be inconsistent with an employee’s obligations under the Ethical framework for the government sector.

However, sometimes a gift or benefit may be offered to influence a government employee in making a decision, or to provide a favour which will advance the interests of the giver, either now or in the future. Even gifts and benefits of modest value can be used to cultivate, over time, a relationship where a government employee feels an obligation or loyalty to the giver. Accepting a gift or benefit that could be perceived by other persons to be an inducement is inconsistent with the standards of conduct required by the Ethical Framework.

Soliciting or accepting a gift or benefit as an actual inducement to make a decision, or to provide a favour, is not only inconsistent with the Ethical Framework, but constitutes corrupt conduct under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 and may lead to criminal prosecution.

There can be serious consequences for the employer and the employee where the management of gifts and benefits is mishandled. Departments/agencies risk the loss of public trust, financial losses and possible legal actions. Employees risk embarrassment, and action relating to their alleged misconduct which may affect their employment and even lead to prosecution.

Recent inquiries and reviews have demonstrated that the effective management of gifts and benefits involves more than simply establishing a threshold value for reporting, or even imposing a complete prohibition on accepting a gift or benefit.

Active management and a thorough understanding of the agency’s operating environment are also required, if the risks associated with relationships and influence are to be identified and mitigated.

Remember – the goal of a system for managing gifts and benefits is to minimise the risk that unethical or corrupt behaviour will occur.