When should a public official accept gifts?

The law says that the officials shall accept gifts worth over Rwf100,000 for the purpose of being polite, then they should inform the Ombudsman.

For high ranking officials, it can be a challenge to decide whether to accept gifts or turn them down. There is always a thin line between bribery and a socially acceptable culture when gifts are given out.

Think of a situation where an official visits a factory they plan on doing business with, after the visit, they are sent off with handsome gifts.

 

In Rwanda, there are guidelines to help officials make a decision on how to go about it.

 

Under a presidential order enacted in 2010 (PDF), which determines the modalities for a leader to receive or give donations and gifts and their disposal, leaders shall not receive or offer a donation or gift whose value exceeds Rwf100,000.

 

While the law is clear, its implementation is another story.

The law says that the officials shall accept donations worth over Rwf100,000 for the purpose of being polite, then they shall declare and hand in the gift to their institutions and inform the Office of the Ombudsman.

But eight years since the law was enacted, only three cases of expensive gifts were reported to the Ombudsman’s office, leaving corruption monitors wondering whether Rwandan officials are compliant with the law, ignorant about it, or simply accepting expensive gifts but keep it a secret.

Jean Aimé Kajangana, the director of a unit in charge of monitoring incompatibilities and interdictions of senior officials at the Office of the Ombudsman, said that the small number of gifts declared so far suggests a number of conclusions.

Either it’s possible that officials don’t receive expensive gifts as often as people may think or there is lack of awareness about the law and even those who violate the law are not reported to the Ombudsman’s office.

“It’s not yet clear whether it’s because they (senior officials) are not aware of the law or whether they don’t receive gifts,” he told The New Times in an interview.

Of the three cases of gifts declared to the Ombudsman’s office in the last eight years, Kajangana said that one was a mobile phone, another case was two laptops, while a third case was of three mobile phones and three sets of tea cups given to officials from a trip to an Asian country.

While the Ombudsman’s office ruled that the officials should keep the cups, it ordered that laptops and mobile phones be given to institutions officials worked for and used to reward best performing employees or provide mobile phones to members of their staff whose phones are procured by their employing institutions.

“There is a need for maximum awareness about this law to ensure that more people know about it. Both leaders and ordinary people need to know about this law because it’s the latter who can report about the failure to respect it,” Kajangana said.

The chairperson of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Juvenal Nkusi, agrees that it’s possible officials haven’t been receiving expensive gifts because it would be known unless it’s a case of corruption and kept a secret.

“We have no reports of people who received gifts of more than Rwf100,000 and kept them; so it’s possible that many officials don’t receive gifts of a high value and we would know it if they did because it would be exceptional generosity on the part of the donor,” he said.

Under Article 2 of the Presidential Order N° 54/01 of 19/08/2010 determining the modalities for a leader to receive or give donations and gifts, leaders governed by the order include high ranking leaders such as the President of the Senate, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, President of the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister.

Senior officials who are Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, Members of Parliament, Judges of the Supreme Court and other officials appointed by a Presidential Order as well as those appointed by a Prime Minister’s Order, to the Director-General and those falling in the same job classification level are also governed by the order.

It also concerns heads of public institutions, Government services and institutions governed by the law or people holding political offices, as well as those who represent high ranking officials in different meetings and festivities and end up collecting gifts.

Though Transparency International Rwanda has never tackled the issue of gifts given to officials as part of its research on corruption, its Executive Director, Apollinaire Mupiganyi, told The New Times that the most important thing is to continue raising awareness about the law on gifts because it’s the only way people can report about failure to comply with it.

The presidential order defines “donations” or “gifts” as movable or immovable property or other property that is valued in monetary term given or received by a leader freely, any service that is usually payable that a leader may enjoy freely or rendered on a lower price than the one provided, or hospitality received or given to a leader.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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