Public sector officers are from time to time offered gifts during the course of their work, normally by customers or suppliers. Accepting gifts can be appropriate, depending on the circumstances – for example it may involve useful networking or information sharing, but even then caution is advisable. If not properly managed, accepting gifts can cause a real or perceived conflict of interest if the recipient has authority to influence agency decisions in favour of the person or company giving the gift. Management therefore need to provide staff with clear guidance on the circumstances where acceptance of gifts is appropriate or inappropriate. Agencies also need to ensure they have controls, such as gift registers and monitoring of key processes associated with procurement and contracting decisions, to prevent gifts being used to influence decisions of public sector officers.
Section 9 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994, requires employees to act with integrity in the performance of official duties and to comply with their agency’s code of conduct. Agencies generally include policies for receiving and accepting gifts in their code of conduct. Under the Public Sector Commission’s Conduct Guide, agencies are required to consider conflict of interest within their codes of conduct.
We previously performed audits of agency gift registers in 2012 and 2015. Those audits reported the need to improve most aspects of gift management.