About Gifts – Public Office And Law
By Dickson Jere

Exchange of gifts will always be part of our human interactions at different levels. Some gifts comes as a matter of courtesy while others by the very culture of the people we interact with. For example, when you visit the chief – most tribes in Zambia – you are required to take a gift of one form or another. When President’s visit each other, they exchange gifts as part of the international custom. In other cultures, like China, it is considered rude when you fail to gift a high ranking official on his visit. Because the gifts can also be abused and by the conduit of bribery and corruption, some rules of engagements have been developed in different countries.

For starters – gifts are allowed to be given to high ranking government officials albeit under strict rules. For Cabinet Ministers, the rules on gifts are contained in the Cabinet Handbook.
It reads: “Ministers should exercise caution in accepting or rejecting offers of gifts from leaders, Ministers or officials of other governments, or in offering or initiating exchange of gifts.” The rule requires that the Ministers seek advice when it sure about the gifts.

However, the following rules are laid-down for Ministers if the gift is to be accepted.

  1. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry should be informed
  2. Gifts of small value (equivalent in total to or less than a Minister’s nightly allowance while abroad may be kept by the recipient (Maybe calendar?)
  3. Gifts of higher value should be declared for customs purposes and handed over to the Ministry of disposal.
    The handbook does not specify what constitutes higher value but usually there is guide of such gifts. Rolex watches, vehicles, land and so on should be handed over to the State. Under section 87 of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) Act, public bodies are required to have a register for gifts and the law allows receiving “casual gifts” as long as it is not meant to influence the officer.

For Judges, it is even stricter. We have the law in place called the “Judicial (Code of Conduct) Act of 1999, which governs, among other things, how to handle gifts as a judicial officer. They are only allowed things like books, wedding gifts, cards, resource materials for use in their careers and the rule is even extended to their immediate family members!
Even with these exceptions, the law provides in Section 15 (2) that “the gifts, award or benefit could not reasonably be perceived as a bribe or corrupt practice or has intention to influence the officer in the performance of his judicial duties.”

In short, casual gifts are allowed in some instances. The ACC Act in section 90 states; “in any proceedings for an offence under this Act, it shall be valid defence that the gratification offered or accepted is an entertainment or a casual gift.”

The law and rules of gifts have been promulgated to stop abuse and not the act of gifting itself which is part of our human interaction. Some gifts are meant for specific offices and not the people occupying them. During our time in State House, we called it “the monkey in the chair theory” which means that all those coming with gifts and all are not coming to you but the office you occupy. So be wary…you leave office and the gifts stops and start flowing on the new guy in the chair!

As you debate, refer to the law and policy on gifts. Was it a casual gift? Was there a breach? Was it declared? Will it be declared if of high value? Is it smaller than the Minister’s night allowance which he is permitted to keep?
Happy Easter folks!


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