As the end of the year draws near, suppliers may wish to celebrate with you and your VPS colleagues. Do you need a refresher on the rules about gifts, benefits and hospitality (GBH)? CourtHeath's latest blog explores the dos and don’ts of gifts and hospitality so you will know what you can and cannot do during the holiday party season.
Many of us enjoy the holiday season and the run-up to the year’s end. However, when you receive offers of hospitality or gifts, it is important to consider your obligations. These are outlined in the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Guide. This includes some guidance on the minimum accountabilities binding on Victorian public sector employees and employers through the Standing Directions 2018 made under the Financial Management Act 1994. Both the giving and the receiving of gifts, benefits and hospitality are covered.
Policies covering gifts, benefits and hospitality are important for maintaining transparent and accountable practices, which in turn are vital to maintaining trust in the Victorian Public Sector.
“As public officials, our management of any offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality is a practical demonstration of our integrity, impartiality and accountability. It allows the community, business associates and Government to be confident that we make decisions and provide advice free of favouritism, influence and conflicts of interest.”
Responding to Offers of Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality
Minimum Accountabilities in the VPSC Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Guide are:
1. Do not, for yourself or others, seek or solicit gifts, benefits and hospitality.
2. Refuse all offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality that:
- are money, items used in a similar way to money, or items easily converted to money;
- give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest (COI);
- may adversely affect your standing as a public official or which may bring your public sector employer or the public sector into disrepute; or
- are non-token offers without a legitimate business benefit.
3. Declare all non-token offers (valued at $50 or more) of gifts, benefits and hospitality (whether accepted or declined) on your organisation’s register, and seek written approval from your manager or organisational delegate to accept any non-token offer.
4. Refuse bribes or inducements and report inducements and bribery attempts to the head of the public sector organisation or their delegate (who should report any criminal or corrupt conduct to Victoria Police or the Independent Broad-based Anticorruption Commission (IBAC)).
Public sector employees should carefully consider any offers of gifts, benefits, and hospitality that may give rise to any actual, potential or perceived COI, particularly where this concerns a current or potential supplier. Even if you are confident that accepting a gift from a supplier or prospective supplier won’t sway you in future procurement decisions, the perception that you might not be objective is what counts when considering conflict of interest. By avoiding actual, potential and perceived conflicts of interest, public sector employees can maintain integrity and avoid damage to their own reputation and that of their organisation and sector.
Providing Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality
Minimum Accountabilities for public officials providing GBH:
1. Ensure that any gift, benefit and hospitality 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.
2. Ensure that any costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the State and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations.
3. Ensure that when hospitality is provided, individuals demonstrate professionalism in their conduct, and uphold their obligation to extend a duty of care to other participants.
The VPSC Code of Conduct and Supplier Code of Conduct
Adherence to the codes of conduct is crucial; public sector employees and suppliers are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity, impartiality, and accountability. Public duties should be performed without favouritism, bias, or personal gain.
Generally, there is nothing wrong with socialising with stakeholders – including suppliers – that you have been working with throughout the year (provided you are not involved in procurement, regulatory oversight, etc.). If you are socialising, as a public official, it may be best to pay for yourself. Officials will, of course, need to ensure that too much ‘holiday spirit’ doesn’t result in ‘loose lips’. It is a requirement to comply with the VPS Code of Conduct – especially the confidentiality provisions – at all times.
Proper handling of gifts, benefits and hospitality (and associated offers) is essential for building and maintaining public trust. Suppliers to the State are required to agree to follow the Supplier Code of Conduct. Under this Code, they are expected to refrain from offering gifts or benefits to public officials, directly or indirectly. Hospitality gestures should be limited to basic courtesy, such as offering tea or coffee during a meeting. Moreover, suppliers should avoid taking actions aimed at gaining unfair or improper advantage.
While navigating the complexities of gifts and hospitality regulations, let us not forget the spirit of camaraderie that defines the holiday season. As we uphold the principles outlined in the VPSC Gifts, Benefits, and Hospitality Policy Guide, let this festive period serve as a reminder of the shared bonds and goodwill that contribute to a positive and harmonious workplace environment.
* * *
IMAGE: CourtHeath Consulting
* * *
[category courtheath's blog]
[#VPS, #VPSC, #integrity]
[#VPS, #VPSC, #integrity]