KAMPALA – There is a need to monitor gifts to public officers in the fight against solicitation, bribery, extortion as forms of corruption. The acceptance of gifts, services and hospitality can leave a public official vulnerable to accusations of corruption, unfairness, partiality or deceit, or even lawful conduct. Although in some private-sector gifts and hospitality are a prevalent and fundamental part of business transactions. For example, every end-of-year private companies gives and accept gifts of all kinds amongst themselves.
Public officials hold public offices in trust for the public, in the cause of official duties, they may be gifted either weddings, family, community recognition for good service. Receiving gifts can present a host of ethical issues to public officials. Of course, making demands for gifts in exchange for official action violates the corruption Laws in Uganda. A public officer shall not give/receive such gifts to influence the judgment or action of another person in his favors. Neither should a public officer receive such gifts in the course of discharging his or her duties. However, a public officer can receive gifts from a relative or personal friend in line with custom.
The Leadership Code Act penalizes a public officer who does not disclose any gift given in the course of his duty. Such concealment is deemed corruptible conduct and also denies the public its right to honest disclosures from public officials.
The gifts received under transparent and in good motive with no strings attached deserve declaration. The Leadership Cod Act puts a public officer on task to disclose gifts to the Inspectorate of Government. There is no justifiable reason why a public officer should not declare a gift. This is not about public perception but self-accounting on the part of the public officer.
Fosters good leadership and governance. Bearing in mind that a good gift to a public officer can turn out inappropriate in the circumstances.
The public officers hold to trust on behalf of the people who demand transparency, accountability, effective leadership and integrity, ethical and lawful conduct. The public officer must at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, loyalty, act with patriotism, justice, lead modest lives, uphold public interest over personal interest.
In absence of the such gift declarations, the negative implications will be that concealment enhances corruption, bribery, the breach of public trust, unethical behavior and conduct on behalf of the public officer, conduct incompatible with the innocence of public officer, extortion tendencies, solicitation which is outright corruption. Sometimes a gift is not a gift because of expectation attached, for example, a gift is offered during tendering process to a public officer.
There is a need for public officers to disclose and declare gifts as by law required self-accounting, uphold public trust in all situations, regard transparency as a great value for public officers.
Public Institutions should adopt a “Gifts and Hospitality Policy” consistent with government laws. Ethical principles to consider what can and cannot be given or accepted be clearly laid out for all to see.
A “Gifts and Hospitality Register” will aid transparency and accountability to the public and build trust-building. Clear “Gifts guidelines” ought to be put in place for information to officers.
To ensure a transparent culture around gifts and hospitality issues, open discussions in public offices be encouraged. On the ethical side, let public institutions offer information, create advise communication lines for staff guidance and ethical issues, offer training programs to provide public officials with tools to deal with dilemmas as well as regularly auditing gifts and hospitality register to ensure that the policy is understood and being adhered too.
The ethics of giving and receiving gifts by public officials can be a dilemma and require expeditions disclosure and declarations in compliance with the Leadership Code Act 2002.
Ms. Joyce Nalunga Birimumaaso is a senior advocate and member, leadership code tribunal.