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Beware the bearer of gifts

Is the government initiative of promoting electric vehicles benefitting only a selected few?  According to the Anti Corruption Commission, it appears so.

Although the commission couldn’t establish a direct case of conflict of interest, the message is clear.  That in promoting a noble initiative, they have come in conflict with some rules and undermined provisions of the Constitution that provides for fair market competition.

When the government fancied promoting electric vehicles, there were not many objections.  However, some eyebrows were raised when it came to importing second hand EVs and who was distributing it.  But the commission is clear that by receiving gifts from Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (Japan) and Tesla Company (USA), it has violated provisions of the Gift Rules, 2009.

The prime minister has requested the commission to investigate if there was a case of conflict of interest.  That was a good move because, in promoting a noble initiative, his conscious has to be clear.  What probably was missed was that the Gift Rule 2009 prohibits a public servant from accepting and giving gifts.  When the prime minister drives around a brand new Tesla, received as a gift, and then fervently promotes electric cars, there is a reason for everyone to doubt.

The commission was diplomatic in pointing out the faults.  Gift giving and taking between public officials and businesses is a serious issue, and that it’s important to consider why business firms want to gift EVs to the prime minister or a minister, they pointed out.  To put it bluntly, what has transpired was not right.

If one feels obligated to accept a gift, for reasons to avoid embarrassing a foreign visitor, for example, there are exceptions.  All foreign gifts are deemed to have been accepted on behalf of the government and, upon acceptance, become the property of the state.  Perhaps the intentions were clear, but receiving the same gift and promoting it didn’t go well with the rule.

The Gift Rule had been in place for about six years now.  Although it spells out dos and don’ts clearly, it is still complicated, especially when the tradition of gifts is strongly rooted in our culture.

The first thing a farmer would ready, when visiting a higher ranked official, is a set of gifts, normally rice or zaw (puffed rice).  It now varies from gho pieces to mobile phones to more expensive gifts.  It is generally accepted that favours are expected to be returned.

It is not sure if the commission is serious of the rule that was put in place six years ago.  Most of the time, it is not known unless a complaint is filed.  But the intention of the rule is clear.  Gifts could compromise the objectivity of officials, who make decisions in the interest of the public.

Offering or receiving gifts must be discouraged, no matter how small or big they may be.  Let’s leave no room for doubts and misgivings.

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