Integrity

Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Minimum Standards

Each department and agency must have in place:

  • A policy for the management of gifts and benefits
  • A gifts and benefits register
  • Training and support for employees.

Policy

The department/agency policy must:

  • Define “gifts and benefits”
    An exhaustive definition would be:
    “any item, service, prize, hospitality or travel, provided by a customer, client, applicant, supplier, potential supplier or external organisation, which has an intrinsic value and/or a value to the recipient, a member of their family, relation, friend or associate”.
  • Establish value thresholds, if appropriate
    Consider whether it is appropriate to establish value thresholds, both single instance and cumulative:
    • Below which a gift or benefit can be accepted without the approval of a manager, or its being recorded in the register
    • Above which a gift or benefit must be declined - or, where this is not practicable - accepted, registered and then donated to charity.

    The Audit Office of NSW suggests, as a guide, that the first threshold be $25 and the second $100.i However, these thresholds could vary, depending on the specific functions and operating environment of the department/agency.

  • State employees’ obligations clearly
    Make an unambiguous statement about employees’ obligations in relation to gifts and benefits. This could take the form of dos and don’ts.

For example:

Don’t:

  • Solicit a gift or benefit
  • Accept a gift or benefit as an inducement to act in a certain way
  • Accept a gift or benefit where there could be a perception that it has been offered as an inducement to act in a certain way
  • Accept cash, cheques, money orders or gift vouchers
  • Accept a gift or benefit where it is to be provided to a family member, relation, friend or associate
  • Accept a gift or benefit where you currently, or may in the future, exercise discretion in the making of a decision affecting the giver
  • Accept a gift or benefit if you are unsure whether you should

Do:

  • Read, understand and comply with the gifts and benefits policy
  • Politely decline a gift or benefit which is not allowed
  • Seek management approval to accept a gift or benefit which is allowed
  • Promptly record gifts and benefits in the register.
  • Address conflicts of interests
    Make it clear that where a conflict of interests exists (that is, where there is an actual, potential or reasonably perceived conflict between an employee’s private interests and their impartial performance of their official duties) the offer of a gift or benefit should always be declined and registered.
  • Outline an approval process
    Normally, an approval process for accepting a gift or benefit would identify who can approve, any value threshold for mandatory reporting and recording, and who holds the department/agency gift register.
  • Identify specific risks
    The structure and functions of a department/agency will influence the nature and level of risk it faces in managing gifts and benefits. Senior managers should identify risks that are specific to their organisation, or to a business unit, and ensure that these are addressed adequately in the gifts and benefits policy. Including real-life examples and/or organisation’s operating environment, will assist employees to better understand their obligations.

    Risks identified by similar organisations, and their experiences with gifts and benefits, should be monitored and considered as potential risks for your own organisation.
  • Specify how breaches will be handled
    Specify what action will be taken when an employee breaches the gifts and benefits policy. In most cases, breaches will be covered by the Code of Ethics and Conduct; department/agency codes; relevant legislation, including the Government Sector Employment Act 2013; and the Government Sector Employment Rules 2014.

Register

The department/agency gifts and benefits register should be transparent and auditable. Whether a physical document or an electronic file, the register should also be straightforward, secure and held centrally. Consideration should also be given to publishing the register on the department/agency website.

To be effective the register should record:

  • Date of the offer or receipt
  • Name and business unit of the receiver
  • Name and organisation of the giver
  • Description of the gift or benefit
  • Estimated value of the gift or benefit, where possible supported by evidence
  • Description of the context in which the gift or benefit was offered and/or received
  • Disclosure of any relationship – business or personal - between the giver and receiver
  • Name of the approving manager or supervisor
  • Decision, for example:
    • Accept and retain - the employee or department/agency will accept and retain  or
    • Accept and dispose - the department or agency will accept and dispose (in accordance with relevant asset disposal policies) e.g. donate to charity  or
    • Refuse - acceptance of the gift or benefit is refused
  • Reasons for the decision.

The reliability of the system will be improved if register entries are reviewed regularly by a designated senior manager to ensure actions are consistent with the policy.

Training and support

Departments and agencies should provide employees with training and support in managing gifts and benefits.

  • Train all employees
    Training in the department/agency gifts and benefits policy should be provided to all new starters as part of their induction, along with training on the Ethical Framework and relevant Code(s) of Ethics and Conduct. This is especially important for employees working in the government sector for the first time. Agencies must also implement strategies that maintain a high level of awareness for staff on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that employees are reminded of their obligations in managing gifts and benefits on at least an annual basis. Formal training about this matter should be integrated into existing cyclical training or development activities including performance development programs. The nature and type of awareness or training must take into account the risk and likelihood of receiving a gift or benefit based on the employee’s role.Employees’ obligations can also be reinforced by supervisors during performance review discussions and team meetings.

    Consider also the specific training needs of employees involved in procurement and contract management, where suppliers may employ sophisticated sales and relationship building techniques.  Where possible, training should help employees to recognise these techniques and respond appropriately.
  • Ensure advice is readily available
    Designate a senior manager who is available to advise employees on their gifts and benefits obligations, and to escalate issues if necessary.
  • Consider publishing a “statement of business ethics”
    Many organisations now publish a statement of business ethics to assist their customers, applicants, suppliers, and potential suppliers. This statement explains how the organisation will behave when providing services, seeking information, regulating, or making purchases. It is in relation to the last of these activities – procurement – that including a summary of the department/agency gifts and benefits policy can be particularly useful.