When is a gift a bribe?

When is a gift a bribe? How does one distinguish between the two?

The answer to this question is not simple and does not depend on what one calls it in public but more closely on the motives and subsequent actions of both parties that follow gift giving.

Gift giving by business managers, and gift receiving by public officials is not always condemned, nor is it considered unethical in many countries around the world, yet there is a fine line dividing a gift from a bribe in business transactions and not all gift-giving is bribery.

Bribery can take various forms, sometimes these are obvious, for instance in the form of a commission, a consulting fee or facilitating payment.

Depending on the nomenclature and cultural customs of the country they can also be called gifts and donations.

However if the objective of any of these acts is to seek a benefit, create a relationship or generate an understanding of quid pro quo which will benefit the giver privately then it is a bribe, regardless of what it is called.

When determining whether a bribe is a gift or vice versa executives need to consider three major things – the size, the nature and the motive behind the offering.

The size of the gift and the motive behind it has a definite influence on a person’s interpretation.

For instance if I invited you over to my home for Christmas and you brought a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, that is a gift, they are small, you have come to my house to celebrate Christmas, they fit within the occasion.

However, if, you were a public official and I came to your house for Christmas and bought a diamond necklace and Rolex watch along with the wine and chocolates, it is clearly not a gift, it is likely to influence someone in your position.

The question is would I have given you that gift if I was your friend and the answer would clearly be no.

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