Bhutanese cannot distinguish between gift and bribe, where the gift culture could be misused to bribe people.

According to the Anti- Corruption Commission’s legal officer Kelzang Dema, if the officials pay some money in return, it would not be considered a gift.

She said this in response to a query from one of the participants during the ACC’s presentation of the revised ‘Gift Rules 2017’ who asked if the offering of tshog chhang could also amount to bribery, as it comes with other edible offerings.

The legal officer said that the revised rule is an ethics and integrity management tool, which will make a clear distinction between what will construe as a gift and what will be considered as a bribe. “The rule will help in prohibiting solicitation, giving and accepting gifts and will set procedures for gift management.”

She said that gift is anything that has economical value for which people do not give anything in return. The revised rules are applicable to all public servants and all gifts whether outside or within Bhutan.

The rule states that a public servant should not solicit or accept directly or indirectly (through a spouse or dependent) receive a gift from a prohibited source.

It also states that seeking official action from a person in an official position, doing business with public servant’s agency such as suppliers, and conduct activities regulated by the public servant’s agency such as contractors will be prohibited. “Any person who has interests that may be affected by the performances or non-performance of public servant’s official duty would be considered a prohibited source.”

The rule also states that if a person is found accepting any gift from a prohibited source, the person would be considered as committing corruption and would be dealt according to the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2011.

The legal officer said that gifts from any other sources would be considered as bribe if the giver has solicited or encouraged solicitation, has placed a condition on the gift, and if the acceptance of gift will create a conflict of interest in future.

The rule mentions that there are few exceptions under which the gifts given by prohibited sources would not be considered as bribe if the exchange is between immediate relatives, on the basis of personal relationship, and on grounds of common opportunities and benefits such as receiving calendars and diaries which are available to everyone.  “The head of the respective agency would determine whether the gift was given because of personal relationship or because of their position as public servants.”

Kelzang Dema said that a gift of a nominal value of amount, not more than worth 10 days of national minimum wage, which is currently Nu 1,250 can be exchanged between public servants under circumstances of occasions such as marriage, child birth, death, retirement, resignation and transfer, and modest, reasonable and customary personal hospitality.

She said that gifts could be accepted on behalf of the agency, as a mark of courtesy or souvenir other than from the prohibited source. “It would be considered as state property and would have to be deposited to the respective agency.”

The rule states that a public servant should disclose any gift received to the agencies’ respective gift disclosure administrator within 24 hours after receiving the gift if the person is in office and after 24 hours of arrival at work place if the person was elsewhere. “A public servant is liable to be fined if they have solicited or encouraged solicitation, accepted any impermissible gift, refused or failed to disclose the gift without reasonable justification and have breached any provision of the rule.”

The rule also states that the public servant would be fined twice the estimated fair market value of the gift, five times the estimated fair market value of the gift for the second, and 10 times for more than two repeated cases.

Karma Cheki