Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Ceisteanna (115)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

156 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance if employees in the Government Supplies Agency have, since 2000, received any gratuity excursions or trips from current or prospective suppliers or received any items as gratuity gestures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20053/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The Government Supplies Agency (whose functions have now been subsumed by the National Public Procurement Operations Unit) was a Business Unit of the Office of Public Works. All staff of the Office of Public Works are subject to the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, and the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour, which was introduced in September 2004. In addition, the Office of Public Works, in 2000, developed its own policy on acceptance of gifts, favours and hospitality, and a copy of this policy is appended to this reply.

Insofar as the Office is aware, no gifts, gratuities, excursions or other hospitality have been accepted by any staff of the Government Supplies Agency.

Office Notice 32/ 2000

ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS, FAVOURS AND HOSPITALITY

Introduction

This Office Notice sets out OPW policy in relation to the accepting or giving of gifts. These local rules have been drafted by the OPW Partnership Committee. This Office Notice does not purport to be a legal interpretation of the relevant legislation or Official Circulars. Clarification of any point may be obtained from Personnel & Development Division.

Current Position

The general rules and guidelines are contained in Department of Finance Circular 15/79: Official Secrecy and Integrity (which basically restated the legislative position set out in the Prevention of Corruption Acts, 1889 to 1916) and the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995. More recently, within the context of the major modernisation programme which the civil service is currently undergoing under the Strategic Management Initiative, a Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour has been drafted to consolidate and clarify the existing rules governing the behaviour of civil servants along with addressing more recent challenges which have arisen as a result of the changing environment in which civil servants work. Among the issues which need to be addressed are the offer of gifts and hospitality. There will be consultation with the civil service unions on the content of the draft Code and it will also be considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service.

Against this background and conscious of the OPW's increasingly commercial role as outlined below, the Board has decided that the following rules shall apply to all OPW staff with immediate effect. It should be noted that these local rules are formulated within the framework of the existing general guidelines.

OPW POLICY

Special Position of OPW

While it is essential that all civil and public servants should adhere to the highest possible ethical standards and integrity in the performance of their official duties, it is considered that there is an even greater onus on OPW — because of its increasingly commercial role as a major player in the property, construction and procurement markets — to be seen to operate to the highest standards of administrative transparency, integrity, impartiality and fairness in all its business dealings with outside parties and customers. More than most other civil service Departments and Offices, OPW is involved in decisions with regard to purchasing goods, commodities or services, awarding contracts and selecting vendors and contractors. For this reason, all OPW staff have an even greater responsibility to be seen to conduct themselves, in the course of their duties, in a manner which will hold the respect, trust and confidence of the public. Each member of staff should declare in writing to the Board any potential conflict of interest that might affect their impartiality in carrying out their duties.

Acceptance of Gifts, Favours and Hospitality

It should be noted that, under the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889-1916 as amended by the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, the corrupt giving of gifts to, or receipt of gifts by, civil servants is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment or fine or both. The Acts provide that money, gifts or other consideration received by a civil servant from a person holding or seeking to obtain a contract from a Government Department is deemed to have been received corruptly unless the contrary is proved.

A member of staff should not accept, or agree to accept, for themselves or any other person, or have accepted on their behalf, any gift, favour, service, or any thing of value which might create the impression that it was given or offered for the purpose of influencing them in the discharge of their official duties.

Gifts of cash or cash vouchers may not be accepted regardless of the amount.

Invitations by suppliers or contractors to lunch, dinner or other hospitality shall not be accepted unless the OPW officer is discussing or representing a specific OPW interest. So as to allow interaction with suppliers and contractors at major annual events where OPW interests are not paramount, such as the annual dinners of professional bodies like the C.I.F., Master Builders, Irish Property & Facilities Managers Association, R.I.C.S. etc., the Board will fund an OPW table at the function. OPW staff should decline invitations to be guests at the table of a specific company or firm. However, OPW personnel may accept invitations by the professional body or association hosting the annual dinner to be guests at the top table.

Invitations to receptions may be accepted where the reception is being hosted by a national or representative body or where there are genuine grounds for believing that the OPW may have a possible business interest or professional advantage in attending the reception.

OPW staff who participate at a conference, convention, symposium, forum, dinner or similar event, as a speaker or panel participant representing OPW interests, must surrender any fee received to OPW. Likewise, any expenses received for transportation or travel to the event must also be surrendered to OPW and a claim for standard civil service expenses submitted.

Invitations by suppliers or contractors to sporting/entertainment events should be declined.

Hospitality involving travel or holidays should be declined.

If in any doubt about an offer of hospitality, the officer to whom the offer is made should report the offer to the Head of his/her Division for direction.

All gifts, favours, services, or any thing of value received as an OPW employee must be returned by the member of staff concerned to the donor or should be handed over to the Office or given to an appropriate charity and the donor so informed.

Unsolicited gifts of nominal value (i.e. complimentary articles of a promotional nature offered to the public in general e.g. calendars, diaries, pens and other similar articles) may be retained by the member of staff or the Office for general use provided it does not create a perception of a conflict of interest. Example: an appearance of a conflict of interest may be created in the eyes of outside parties if an OPW officer whose duties include the assessment and selection of tenders uses a pocket diary conspicuously marked with the name of a company which tenders for OPW business or displays a wall calendar from a vendor thereby creating the impression of an endorsement (if in any doubt, Personnel should be consulted).

OPW staff should not use their position in OPW to seek special facilities or discounts on private purchases from suppliers.

Seeking Sponsorship

A member of staff using their position in OPW, whether acting personally or on behalf of a club or society, must not request from suppliers, contractors, or customers of the OPW any gift, donation, support, or sponsorship, except with the approval of the Board.

Outside Occupations and Activities

Staff may not engage in any outside activities which would conflict with the interests of the OPW, be inconsistent with their official duties, or impair their ability to give continuous, punctual, and satisfactory service. In particular, whole-time civil servants whose duties are of a professional character (e.g. Architects etc.) must not engage in private practice in their respective professions. (Department of Finance Circular 16/36 sets out the rules regarding civil servants and outside occupations).

Breaches

Any breach of the above rules or guidelines will be regarded as a breach of the disciplinary code and may involve appropriate disciplinary action being taken against the member(s) of staff concerned.

Review

The implementation of this Office Notice will be reviewed in a year's time taking account of experience and developments regarding the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour.

Office Notice 32/2000

Sample letter refusing invitation to a function, etc.

To: xxx

Dear

Thank you for your invitation to attend xy. I regret that I am unable to accept your invitation because of office policy which prohibits attendance at such functions.

Yours sincerely

Office Notice 32/2000

Sample letter refusing gifts.

To: xxx

Dear

I am writing to thank you for the gift from your organisation which I received to-day. However, I regret that I cannot accept it on my own behalf because of office policy which prohibits acceptance of gifts. I have passed on your gift to the O.P.W. charitable organisation Brightside which will use it for fund-raising purposes.

Yours sincerely