Gifts and benefits – guidance to public officials

Public officials must consider carefully whether to accept any benefits. If a benefit could, even in theory, affect the public official's decisions, its acceptance will endanger citizens’ trust in public administration.

When you hold a public-service position, your personal interests cannot affect your decisions. That’s why you should consider carefully whether to accept a gift or other benefits. Even when the person offering them has good intentions, they may risk your impartiality and independence.

Simply looking at the value of the gift or benefit is not enough to assess whether you can accept it. Firstly, you should consider whether the receipt of the benefit may endanger a citizen’s trust in you or the authority you represent.

You may risk that trust even when in reality the benefit would not influence your actions – however, outsiders may still view it that way.

Here are some situations in which it is better to refuse all benefits:

  • supervision and inspections
  • procurements
  • decisions about organising services.

A typical example of corruption and the harm it can cause involves bribes to public sector employees. The provisions governing bribery in the public sector aim to prevent inappropriate attempts to exercise influence over decision-making.

If you are offered a gift or benefit

When you assess the acceptability of a benefit, take into account:

  • how the benefit could affect your decisions
  • your position in the organisation
  • your job description
  • the nature and recurrence of the benefit
  • situation and circumstances.

For example, in long-term partnerships it is common to show mutual hospitality. However, even in this context the benefits must be fit for purpose, customary and moderate.

You can also ask these questions to assess the situation:

  • Why is this benefit offered to you?
  • What kind of motives would make you accept the benefit?
  • How would it look like in the media?

You can also ask for your supervisor’s opinion. However, remember that even if your supervisor thinks the benefit is acceptable, you will not be discharged from criminal liability. Always use your own discretion.

If the situation seems unclear to you, do not take the benefit. For example, you can pay for your lunch yourself or arrange a normal meeting instead of a suggested visit that includes entertainment.

Case studies: would you accept these or not?