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How can you spot the difference between a gift and a bribe?

2019-11-29 16:52 Friday

In the world of anti-corruption compliance, it's imperative to stay on the right side of the law. There can sometimes be ambiguity in business relationships, especially when it comes to navigating different cultural traditions and expectations.


One of these potential pitfalls is identifying the difference between a gift and a bribe. Giving a gift to a client or prospective business partner is something that is practiced the world over and can help to cement relationships.

But where does the line stand, and how can professionals make sure that they are consistently doing the right thing? There's always a potential risk for tips and gifts and to take on a corrupt nature, particularly in situations when they are extended to people with whom organizations have an official relationship.

In any scenario when a gift is received or given with a motive to secure, or to be reciprocated with, an unfair advantage, then it may be considered as corruption by many.

A gift turns into a bribe when its main purpose is to win special treatment from a figure of authority. That is especially the case when there is no other immediate reason for the gift. If the transfer of the gift is made in a situation where it is concealed from public awareness or made secret, then the potential for malpractice is even greater.

Conversely, a gift that is given without any corrupt intention of is not usually considered a red flag. A present to a boss on their birthday can be a totally benign gift to simply celebrate the occasion. On the other hand, a gift given to a boss on a random day just prior to asking for extended leave could be considered bribery.

Let's look at another example. In some places, the practice of funeral service firms giving "red packet" envelopes containing money to crematorium workers began innocently years ago. But is since has turned into clear-cut bribery in exchange for preferential treatment.

Whilst gifts are often presented as a gesture of goodwill, heavily generous gifts tend to pile pressure on the recipient to extend more than just a favorable opinion of the giver. Thus, the line between sincere gift-giving and bribery has increasingly become distorted.

The fine line between corruption and a gift showing a person's appreciation can be wafer-thin, especially depending on the cultural context. Something that is seen as a sign of appreciation in one particular culture might be considered as bribery elsewhere.

For instance, in the Middle East, generosity is valued and giving a gift tends to be viewed as a mark of friendship and a valuable step towards establishing a profitable business relationship.

International companies should ensure their employees have the right access to training and skills to acquire the necessary awareness and knowledge needed to accept gifts across different cultures, particularly in China and the Asia-Pacific region.

In Singapore, public servants stand by a code of conduct, which states that gifts received in the course of official duties must be declared accurately and in a timely manner. 

As a measure of good practice, private companies are also strongly encouraged to implement their own in-house policies on gift-giving to ensure employees don’t fall foul of the law. A proactive approach to prevention can go a long way in minimizing the pitfalls and risks and to establish proper anti-corruption measures.

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