Philippine Daily Inquirer
By this time of the month, most businesses have come up with the names of the people they will send gifts to for various reasons.
On top of the list would be customers or clients who made significant contributions to their bottom line. The gifts would not be limited to the people whose signatures appear on the vouchers or checks. Those who have, one way or the other, helped close the deals would not be forgotten.
The unwritten rule, or more aptly called, tradition, in businesses that regularly deal or interact closely with government offices is to play Santa Claus to the employees who act on their filings or submissions.
In keeping with our social norm, a pecking order is strictly observed on gift-giving in both private and government sectors. Unless deep personal relations are involved, the position of the intended recipient in the hierarchy is directly proportional to the value of the gift he gets.
By observing this standard, no egos are ruffled and intrigues (which are standard fare in all human organizations) minimized. Peace and harmony are maintained in the workplace.
In the private sector, gift-giving is an accepted practice during what most Filipinos consider the happiest season of the year. The only limit to this activity is the amount of money that can be spent without going overboard or upsetting the budget.
The situation, however, is different for government officials and employees. There are two Grinches that always threaten to steal Christmas from them: the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (or Republic Act 019) and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (or Republic Act 6713).
The anti-graft law prohibits them from “…receiving any gift… for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the government and any other party, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.”
The ban on gifts applies “even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is under the circumstances manifestly excessive.”
The law is silent, however, on how or when that prohibited threshold is reached. And the guidelines issued by the Ombudsman on the matter are not helpful either.
Mercifully, the qualifying phrase can be viewed as a saving grace. It means public officials can receive Christmas gifts as long as they are, in the light of the situation they are given, not extravagant or unconscionable.
In the absence of clear-cut criteria, the determination of when a gift should be disallowed therefore depends on, among others, the official status of its recipient, the extent of his interaction with the gift giver and, most importantly, the monetary value of the gift.
Thus, for example, a fruit basket worth P10,000 given to an office clerk may be excessive but not for somebody who holds a supervisory position.
The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards has a similar take on gifts to public officials and employees.
They are barred from soliciting or accepting gifts from any person “in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”
The prohibition, though, does “not include an unsolicited gift of nominal or insignificant value not given in anticipation of or in exchange for a favor from a public official or employee.”
Like the anti-graft law, the Code of Conduct is silent on what constitutes gifts of “nominal or insignificant value.” The guidelines issued by the Civil Service Commission are susceptible to varying interpretations.
Bottom line, it is up to the government office concerned to determine, depending on the attending circumstances, the nature of the gift given to its employees and decide on whether or not to allow them.
While a total ban on gift-giving to government employees during the holiday season may look good, at least for publicity purposes, it is unrealistic and impractical.
In the first place, there is nothing inherently wrong with maintaining good relations with government personnel with whom private companies do business with.
All business people worth their salt, including those in developed countries, know that government supervision or regulation is an integral part of their operation. Since it cannot be avoided, it makes good business sense to be in its good graces.
Thus, companies set aside certain sums of money in their budgets to give something to government employees they do business with in the spirit of Christmas, in the same manner they treat their customers, clients, bankers and other professionals who may have helped them during the preceding months.
The Yuletide season is the only time in the year that private companies can do some apple polishing on government employees without feeling embarrassed about it.
True, there are corrupt government employees who use their positions for personal aggrandizement. But the rotten eggs do not represent the majority in the government service.
If there are snakes in the government, private business has its own share of shenanigans and hoodlums.
A total embargo on gift-giving to government employees is an overkill or, to use street lingo, overacting. As long as the gifts conform to the standards of reasonableness or are of nominal value under the attending circumstances, the spirit of Christmas gift-giving should be allowed to have its rightful fill.
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