The Big Corruption in Small Gifts … and other means

Giveaways, gifts, freebies, premiums, promos, hampers, tokens, redeemable vouchers and what have you. Every year around this time, it pours in: the pens with corporate logos, the canisters of flavoured popcorn, the iTunes gift cards, the boxes of chocolate, the pocket calendars, small and mega hampers, the shipments of fresh fruit.

It is the annual ritual in which financial companies say “thank you” to the people on the other side of their trades: to clients, to journalists, to public officials and, yes, perhaps even to political parties or personalities.

No one seems to be bothered very much by the exchange of small gifts.

But you should be. There is overwhelming evidence that small gifts have a big influence on the behaviour of the recipients.

That opens the door for the giver to offer you still more gifts in the future. Even if they, too, are small, they can push you inch by inch and year by year down the slippery slope of obligation and special treatment.

Constant visual reminderslogos, colours, brand namesalso make a company and its products more familiar to you and thus more favourable in your eyes. That happens whether you are aware of it or not, creating an unconscious bias that you cannot combatbecause you are not even aware your judgment has been tainted.

It is also a well known psychological fact that the more gifts people receive, the less likely they are to believe that there is anything wrong with receiving giftsthus desensitizing them to the risk of becoming beholden to the giver.

So, indeed, it should be an undisputed fact that gifts and corruption go hand in hand. However, as a seasoned lawyer, I tend to view corruption and gifts from different perspectives, not least, legal.

Petty Corruption.

Petty corruption refers to the everyday corruption taking place at the implementation end of public services when public officials meet the public. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘routine’ corruption, whereby, for instance, private importers of goods pay bribes to obtain a speedy completion of routine customs procedures, or whereby import goods with high customs duties and excise rates are classified as goods with lower rates. Petty corruption can also described as ‘survival’ corruption; a form of corruption which is pursued by junior or mid-level revenue officers who may be grossly underpaid and who depend on taking relatively small, but illegal, payments to feed and house their families and pay for education.

The distinction between petty corruption and facilitation payments is difficult to draw in practice. Theoretically, the difference is that petty corruption gives the person paying a bribe an undue advantage, whereas a facilitation payment only gives access to a service that would otherwise be legally provided without the payment. Generally, both practices are illegal.


 And then there is full scale corruption, which can also be differentiated in terms of what can be called ‘true corrupt intent’ and ‘necessary corruption’, which occurs in order to get things done. Corruption in terms of true corrupt intent implies bribery in order to obtain a service to which one is not legally entitled. In contrast, necessary corruption implies bribery in order to obtain a service to which one is legally entitled. Facilitation payments would fall under this latter category of corruption.

Abuse of Functions

 One sort of abuse of office is the misuse of information. That is, if an official, in reliance on information which she/he has acquired by virtue of her/his office, speculates on the basis of this information or acquires a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction or company which might be affected by such action or information or helps another to do any of these actions.



Graft is a form of political corruption in which an official acquires financial gain by dishonest or unfair means, especially through the abuse of one’s position or political influence. Unlike bribery, graft does not require that the official actually provided an undue advantage; it is enough that she/he gains something of value apart from her/his official pay when doing her/his job.



This happens when one offers, promises or gives any undue pecuniary or other advantage, whether directly or through intermediaries, to a foreign public official, for that official or for a third party, in order that the official act or refrain from acting in relation to the performance of official duties, in order to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage.


Cronyism is a form of favouritism shown to close friends. A typical situation of cronyism would be the political appointment to office of a friend without regard for her/his qualifications. Politics apart, this seems to be widespread in Malta.



There are numerous examples of companies being confronted with demands for donations and political party contributions. It is common practice in many countries, not least Malta, that political parties ask for donations. Such demands can be interpreted as extortion if accompanied by an embedded threat. It can be difficult, and in most situations impossible, to prove that this is the case. Still, a law regulating donations and political party finances in Malta could well, in future, neutralize such type of shady activities.

Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.

Dr. Mark Said.


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