The gift rule is back in focus again. This time it is from the dzongkhags. Bumthang is the first to initiate a gift registration system. The dzongdag’s personal assistant will be a little busier.
This is a part of the performance agreement signed with the government. The intention is to discourage accepting gifts that come with expectation of favours in return. Ideally, civil servants who are expected to expedite service delivery should not base their services on gifts. A rule is already in place that if you work in the civil service or a public company, you should not accept a gift, discount, entertainment service, or any other favours that is worth Nu 500.
The practice of giving and accepting gifts is entrenched in our culture. It starts from as simple as an egg to an expensive dramtse dhen (carpet) or a gho piece or even more elaborate ones. The gift rule is new. The culture is way older than the rule. So it is quite difficult to bring an abrupt end to it.
But the concept of the gift has a new meaning today. A packet of doma is no more just a packet of doma; it could be interpreted in so many ways. Officials cannot refuse it, as it would lead to an awkward situation between the giver and taker. A gift, unless specifically restricted, may not necessarily be to seek favours and could be accepted, but there is a thin line. The intention is never known.
There are some that are crystal clear. Civil servants in some posts are accused of accepting gifts mostly from business clients and suppliers within and outside the country. A bill delayed for months is not worth gifting a TV screen or a refrigerator for contractors. But these are now not as prevalent as in the past.
The government has set an example by depositing all the gifts it receives to be auctioned although it came under the scanner of the Anti Corruption Commission for some other gifts it received. The initiative to register and not reject, to prevent embarrassment to the giver, is a good one. The gifts collected could be auctioned and money directed to improving the office premise, unless of course it is a few balls of cheese.
In the dzongkhags, villagers are carefree about gifting or receiving. It is in some way a part of their lives.
Not long ago, when the National Assembly proposed a ban on celebrations of promotions, it was branded as a trivial issue for the nation’s then highest legislative body. We are seeing some wisdom in this decision today.
Stopping people from gifting or receiving will be difficult. You can only offer a khadar during a promotion now. But an expensive gift can be delivered at home in the evening.
And who will register the gift, especially cash, aspiring politicians give to villagers?