The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) has released a new suite of guidance and templates about gifts, benefits and hospitality (GBH).
“As public officials, we all have a duty to conduct ourselves in accordance with the highest standards of integrity, impartiality and accountability,” said the VPSC Commissioner Belinda Clark QSO. “The way we respond to offers of GBH is critical to earning and sustaining the trust of those we serve.
“Gifts, benefits and hospitality policies assist us to differentiate modest tokens of appreciation, or hospitality that is a basic courtesy, from inducements, conflicts of interest or non-token offers without a legitimate business benefit.”
What’s new in the gifts framework?
- the maximum threshold Victorian government departments and agencies can set for accepting GBH is $50
- GBH valued over $50 must be declined unless there is a legitimate business benefit to your department/agency and your manager approves acceptance – legitimate business benefit does not include networking
- whether accepted or not, all GBH offers over $50 must be recorded on a register available on your website
- The register must include
· date of offer
· name of person/organisation making the offer
· name of person to whom offer was made (this personal detail can be suppressed on the public-facing register)
· nature of the offer
· estimated value of the offer
· any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest or reputational risks
· how the offer was managed
· for accepted offers, the business reason for acceptance and the officer approving the acceptance
· at least current and previous financial years.
What’s in this VPSC suite?
The GBH resource suite includes:
- GBH Framework
- “Minimum Accountabilities” document
- Model customisable GBH policy
- Template GBH register
- Template GBH disclosure form
- Host test and gift test.
Who will be affected by the new gifts framework?
The framework will impact on:
- all Victorian departments/agencies subject to the Minister for Finance Standing Directions
- all department/agency “workplace participants” including executives, board members, employees, contractors, consultants and any individuals or groups undertaking activity for or on behalf of the department/agency
- suppliers or “business associates” being external individuals or entities which the department/agency has, or plans to establish, some form of business relationship, or who may seek commercial or other advantage by offering gifts, benefits or hospitality.
Important requirements that haven’t changed
GBH must still be declined by staff involved in related licensing, regulation or procurement and where acceptance would create a conflict of interest.
Giving as well as recieving
Public officials providing GBH must ensure that:
- the GBH is provided for a business purpose in that it furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate organisational goals, or promotes and supports government policy objectives and priorities
- costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the State, and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations
- when hospitality is provided, individuals demonstrate professionalism in their conduct, and uphold their obligation to extend a duty of care to other participants.
Heads of public sector organisations must:
- establish, implement and review organisational policies and processes for the effective management of GBH that comprehensively address the “minimum accountabilities”
- establish and maintain a register for GBH offered to public officials that records sufficient information to effectively monitor, assess and report on the “minimum accountabilities”
- publish the GBH policy and register on the public website
- communicate and make clear within the organisation that a breach of the GBH policies/processes may be criminal or corrupt conduct, may constitute a breach of binding codes of conduct, and may result in disciplinary action
- establish and communicate a clear policy position to business associates on the offering of GBH to employees, including possible consequences of not complying
- report annually to audit committee on the administration and quality control of its GBH policy, processes and register. This report must include analysis of the organisation’s GBH risks (including repeat offers from the same source and offers from business associates), risk mitigation measures and any proposed improvements.
For more information about the new Victorian government gift policy, please visit: Improving the way we manage gifts, benefits and hospitality, published online by the VPSC.
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IMAGE: Used under licence from shutterstock.com.
Written by Pauline Bernard.