A former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Mr. Emile Short, has explained the different conditions under which gifts may be considered as bribes.
Quoting Article 284 of the Constitution, he said: “a public officer should not put him or herself in a position where his or her interest conflicts with the functions of his or her office.”
However, he said the Constitution had not given guidelines as to what constituted a conflict of interest, which was why CHRAJ had come up with certain guidelines on conflict of interest as well as gifts.
Mr. Short was reacting to allegations in the media that by accepting a gift of a Ford Expedition vehicle from a Burkinabe contractor, President John Dramani Mahama had compromised his high office and had accepted a bribe.
However, in his interview with the Daily Graphic yesterday, he did not take a position on whether the President was right in taking the gift or not.
Rather, he made references to the provisions on the conduct of public officers with respect to gifts as contained in Article 284 of the 1992 Constitution and the Conduct of Public Officers Bill 2013 currently before Parliament.
Conduct of Public Officers Bill 2013
Mr. Short indicated that those guidelines had substantially been incorporated in the Conduct of Public Officers Bill 2013, which is an attempt by the government in collaboration with CHRAJ, to make the guidelines law.
The Conduct of Public Officers Bill 2013, has been approved by the Cabinet but is yet to be passed by Parliament.
According to Section 22 of the bill, which speaks to the issue of acceptable gifts, “A public officer may accept any of the following gifts where the gift does not reasonably appear to influence or result in the influence of the performance of the public officer’s functions: (a) an unsolicited souvenir that does not exceed the value prescribed by Regulations; ‘Conduct of Public Officers Bill, 2013.’”
Mr. Short said Section 22 of the bill in Parliament spoke to the issue of acceptable gifts. It states that gifts that may be accepted by public officers include: “(b) a gift from a relative on the basis only of that relationship; (b) a reduced membership or other fee for being a member of a professional body, where that reduction is offered generally to the members of that body and made known to the public;
“(c) a gift or benefit from the business employment of a spouse if that gift or benefit is extended to other families and has not been offered on the basis of the public officer’s functions; (d) a social invitation from a person other than a person whom the public officer comes into contact with in relation to the public officer’s functions;
“(e) an award, honorary degree and honorarium, if that award, honorary degree or honorarium (i) is given in good faith or is incidental to a genuine award, honorary degree or honorarium is given for meritorious public service or professional achievement by the public officer, and (ii) is made as part of an established programme of recognition and funded wholly or in part to ensure its continuation on a regular basis and the selection of recipients is made in accordance with a transparent criterion.”
Mr. Short explained that if the gift from a relative was based on some other relationship such as business relationship, then that would not be permissible.
Duty to check gifts
He said what was important was the provisions about what the public officers should do when confronted with the situation where they were given gifts.
Quoting Section 23 of the bill, he said, “When a public officer is given a gift the public officer shall consider a number of things. Whether the gift is an appreciation of an official duty or intended to seek favour or special treatment from the public officer in respect of the performance of the functions of the public officer.
“Whether the acceptance of the gift will influence the discharge of an official duty or the performance of an official function in favour of the donor;
“Whether there is an implied obligation to return the favour in an official capacity in favour of the donor, the family of the donor or associates of the donor or the public officer’s family or associates;
“Whether the public officer is prepared to declare the gift and the source of the gift to the public officer’s organisation and its clients and to the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) because gifts are also subject to gift tax.”
According to Mr. Short, the main consideration in the matter is whether the gift was given in an attempt to influence the public officer’s discharge of his or her functions.
In a related development, the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC) is demanding more information from the government to dispel any notions or perceptions on the gift received by the President from the Burkinabe contractor.
The coalition said the Minister of Communications had to furnish Ghanaians with more information, such as the relationship between the contractor and the President, how the luxury vehicle worth a $100,000 was received and decisions on the vehicle’s use at the Presidency.
The acting Executive Secretary of GACC, Mrs. Beauty Nartey, in an interview with the Daily Graphic said the information would help clarify for all, whether the gift accepted by the President put him in a conflict of interest situation or not.
“If the President accepted the gift on behalf of Ghanaians, then Ghanaians have the right to know. No gift can be accepted on behalf of Ghanaians in secrecy,” Mrs. Nartey said.
Mrs. Nartey pointed out that although the gift was alleged to have been given in 2012, information about it was just coming out in 2016.
She said that, and several other unanswered questions made it difficult for people not to conclude that it was a gift given to earn a favour, particularly when analyzed in the light of constitutional provisions and the rules and regulations on conflict of interest and codes of conduct for public officers.
Mrs. Nartey, therefore, called on parliamentarians to use the opportunity presented by the exposé of Joy FM to pass the Conduct of Public Officers Bill, 2013.