By: David Yusuf Kabia, Public Education Officer, ACC
While the practice of gift giving and receiving still remains a critical fraction of the African tradition, which in fact was and maybe still upheld as a primary code of respect and honour among Africans, contemporary legal codes against corruption, inequitable distribution of national resources and the tampering of the integrity of persons under the entrust of public resources seek to control this practice within the ambit of the law in a bid to maintain integrity and honesty in public life.
Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries holds that a gift is “a thing that you give to somebody, especially on a special occasion or to say thank you”. Such occasions may include, birthdays, weddings, child bearing, graduation and the list goes on. Traditionally, the giving of gifts is regarded as a cultural norm that proves that one knows their tradition and therefore is respectful to same. Gifts in this regard is therefore the doing of anything (from bringing of kola nuts to authorities to presentation of goats and other animals to In-Laws) that is long practiced in a particular culture. Regardless this seeming difference between the two, can it be said yet, that no expectation follows with the motive of giving?
Arguable it is for some definitions of gifts that omits the ‘expectation’ reality as that of Merriam-Webster Dictionary that . Nobody sends a gift to someone they dislike or have no use to them at all. This excludes gifts sent by religious bodies to other people as aid during difficulties like wars or natural disasters. We give gifts to our loved ones because first we believe that we share a relationship and secondly because we seek to improve that relationship. To this end, the gift we give to those we share a relationship with goes to move them to remain indebted to us. This is called the ‘debt balance’ (“This is also the principle of bribery”), as explained by Dimitri Mortelmans, sociology professor at Antwerp University in Belgium. Nothing we do as humans is devoid of motive in many situations. This is an inherent attribute of humanity because we give where we want to be given too as Latin would put it Do Ut des: “I give because I expect you to give something back.” Many a time, the expected is not exactly the given. It could be something else or some value that would equate the given. When a man woos a beautiful woman and buys her a Range Rover Sport 2023 edition, the motive is for her to comply with the terms of the romantic request and hence with all that should come with that acceptance. “gift” as something “voluntarily transferred” and “without compensation.” Gifts when given are so truly attached with the expectation of a quid pro quo (a favour or advantage granted in return for something). Yet, it remains clear that some gifts are far from being accompanied by the ‘expectation’ reality. These gifts are those given by parents to their toddlers, which are just for love. Aside, even the gift by a parent to a child that does well in school is wrapped with the expectation that ‘mummy is expecting more ace performance in school’. Even with ancient African tradition when deities are gifted with human and other blood-spilling sacrifices, the expectation is that the people and their communities would enjoy more protection and bountiful harvests at the end of the harvest season. In fact, the 20th century French sociologist Marcel Mauss in his 1925 titled “Gift” maintained that gifts are tied with strict obligation of expectation by noting that “To refuse to give, to fail to invite, just as to refuse to accept, is tantamount to declaring war; it is to reject the bond of alliance and commonality,”
GIFT CONTRARY TO SECTION 51 OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION ACT 2008 (AS AMENDED IN 2019)
In tandem with the provision cited supra, the liability for any public officer who receives or solicits a gifts clearly states that that public officer if prosecuted and found guilty “shall be liable on conviction to a fine five times the value of the gift or benefit or fifty million Leones whichever is greater or to imprisonment for a term not less than one year or both such fine and imprisonment.” However, the Act is mindful of the threshold and to this end stipulates that only gift above NLE. 5,000 (Five Thousand New Leones) or LE. 5,00,000 (Five Million Old Leones) pursuant to Section 5 (4) must either be reported to the relevant authority or be included in the declaration form of the said recipient.
Public officials are the guards making sure unfairness in the dispensation of public resources remains equitable. This trust bestowed upon them requires a high level of integrity and honesty in them. It is therefore critically uncertain that such integrity and honesty would be maintained where the practice of receiving and or soliciting gifts by public officials becomes a norm. Like aforesaid, gifts given by a parent to a child may not always carry with it the ‘expectation’ or debt balance situation because it is expected that the parent ought to make the child happy. This is not true for the public space where lies opportunities and benefits in the custody of public servants and the very reason for calling such gifts as bribes according to Roy (2010:1). He went further to maintain that in defining a gift as a bribe, three things must be carefully noted: viz. the extent, the nature and the intention behind that gift. There is a high level of trust placed on public officials for the protection of public resources. It is therefore safe to also expect high level of corruption perception by the public where the conduct of those public officials show a corrupt tendency, Melgar Rossi and Smith (2009:120) maintains.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) while tirelessly working towards maintaining equity in the use and benefit of public resources in the hands of public officials put out a press release on the Andrew Jaiah Kaikai matter and continues to call on public officials to be mindful of Section 51 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as amended) in the discharge of their everyday duties to Sierra Leoneans. It must not be seen or inferred by anyone that the ACC frowns at the receipt of gifts by public officials. However, the Commission only wishes that public officials do the needful as provided for by the aforementioned provision in the Act.
In its firm entrust to continue protecting public resources, the Commission has commenced investigations into the Andrew Jaiah Kaikai matter and surely will use the law and the law only in this pursuit to ensure that the awaiting Sierra Leonean populace is well informed on the outcome of the said investigations.