gift or bribe

Gift Or Bribe?

The dictionary defines a gift as a thing given willingly to someone without payment in return. Bribe, on the other hand, is dishonestly persuading someone to act in one’s favour by a gift of money or other inducements. Therefore, bribery uses gifts as its medium of operation, but not all gifts are bribes. Unfortunately, the two have almost been made to look like siamese twins even though they are supposed to be distinct in form, appearance, and nature. Indeed, bribery does not always take the form of monetary gifts. Entertaining amorous sexual relationships with influential people to make unmerited gains and favours at the expense of others are all forms of bribery.

In organisations, gifts, meals, entertainment, and travel to clients or prospective clients are all implements of bribery that need careful and special scrutiny. The article, however, restricts itself to bribery in the context of monetary gifts or material inducements. Bribery, apart from falling short of Christian and ethical standards, negatively impacts the general socio-economic well-being of every society. The ever-increasing huge deficit in healthcare and other infrastructural projects in many developing countries can almost always be traced back to the incidences of bribery and corruption.

In October 2011, Kerry Khan and Michael Alexander, two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees, were arrested and charged with fraud for taking bribes estimated at over 20 million dollars. They were accused of taking bribes from contractors to be awarded lucrative government contracts, amongst others.

“In Turkey and Russia, Alexion Pharmaceuticals paid government officials and doctors at state-connected hospitals to promote the use of its blood-disease drug, Soliris. The bribery resulted in Alexion being ‘unjustly enriched’ by about $6.6 million in Turkey and $7.5 million in Russia, the SEC said.” (FCPA Blog, 2020)

And in Ghana, my homeland, a survey by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) indicated that a total of ¢5 billion had been paid in bribes in a given year to access basic services in both the private and public sectors. Dubbed “2021 Ghana Integrity of Public Services Survey”, the survey indicates that 26.7% of public sector officials were engaged in bribery acts, whilst 9.1% were officials from the private sector. “The report also showed that the prevalence of bribery in Ghana is 26.7%, meaning one out of four people who had contact with a public official in the 12 months before the survey had been asked to pay a bribe by a public official or asked to pay bribe but refused to do so. You will understand why Prof Emmanuel Kwesi Aning is reported to have said, “without corruption, the edifice called Ghana will collapse.” (MyJoyOnline). Even though some may not entirely agree with him, his context must not be misconstrued. The Director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre’s (KAIPTC) comment comes after the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) unearthed the extent of corruption in the country in its latest survey”.

The above-listed bribery scandals across the globe confirm that bribery or the phenomena of “kickback” isn’t an African debacle. Making it a Ghanaian or African rendezvous is just a way of restricting the scope of the discussion to suit a certain narrative. We must also not sacrifice certain state institutions even though the research findings pointed to some as theirs being prevalent. We all know what we have done to ourselves as a society to get to where we are now. Name callings wouldn’t be the way to go, therefore.

Also known as graft, bribery has its roots and nutrients from the seed of sin, passed on through natural birth. Therefore, certain conditions and environmental factors suppress or expose such inherent practices in all who depend on their self-espoused virtues and values. The article’s objective is to show clarity on the difference between gift and bribe and proffer practical ways of eschewing all forms of the latter, no matter how tempting.

The offering of gifts in whichever form to others is not only godly, it is also Biblical and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says in Proverbs 11:24-25, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” And Apostle Paul re-echoed Jesus’ phrase about the blessings associated with giving in Acts 20:35. It states, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Many people give freely from the depth of their hearts without any strings or attached expectations.

Similarly, others also genuinely appreciate past deeds that might have gone unnoticed and without the prospects of reciprocal favours either presently or in the future. The Old Testaments practice where Kings, Seers, or Prophets were visited with gifts by those who accessed their services shows that the recipients and givers of gifts are an aged old thing which scriptures do not frown upon (1 Samuel 9:9). In 1 Samuel 25, Abigail hurriedly approached David. She apologised for her husband’s wicked dealings against him and his men. With some supplies for his men as initially requested, she bowed and said to him, ” And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.” The kindness Abigail showed to David and his men averted the bloody revenge the latter and his men vowed to take on Nabal and all the males in the household.

The Lord Jesus Christ was equally full of praises for Mary after she broke her alabaster jar of costly perfume and poured it on His head. The trans-generational blessing associated with that gift or gesture is why we even cite her in this write-up. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13). Were Abigail and Mary bribing their way out for some favours by those gifts to King David and Jesus respectively? Certainly No! Interestingly, in the case of Mary, the real bribe taker was Judas Iscariot, who championed and spearheaded her vehement condemnation as having wasted hard-earned resources.

The excessive appetite and love of gifts must be checked in a person’s life to prevent them from getting trapped by them. Gifts are not things to deliberately work for or expect from others; they should neither be a budget line item when drawing your periodic budgets. Else, any shortfall is what entraps people to map out carefully and design strategies to induce and extort from others. A budgeted gift, therefore, qualifies to be a bribe. People do so by abusing the privileges associated with their high offices and lines of engagement to their benefit but turn around to argue what they received were freewill gifts and not bribes.

In Genesis 14, Abraham fought and recovered back the goods and people captured by the King of Elam and his allied forces for the King of Sodom. All the goods were offered to him as a freewill gift, but  Abraham respectfully rejected them.

“But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With the raised hand, I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal so that you will never be able to say, I made Abram rich.” (Genesis 14:22-23). Similarly, in 2 Kings 5:15-27, Prophet Elisha turned down a generous gift from exhilarated Naaman after his directives miraculously healed the latter to go and wash in the Jordan River. Like in the case of Abraham, there are good and wise reasons why children of God are sometimes directed to turn down even genuine gifts from people. When Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, thought Naaman had been left off the hook by his master and schemed to retrieve those items, he suddenly turned into a leper until his death. Little did Gehazi know that by chasing Naaman’s gifts, he was negotiating for his sickness. Elisha intimated to his boy that it was not the time for taking gifts, and Abraham did not want the King of Sodom to take or share any of God’s glory for the blessings God had bestowed upon him. So even with free will or “unattached” gifts, not all of them are to be countenanced and entertained. The timing for receiving certain gifts is, therefore, crucial as well. All those who covet material possessions and love gifts in whichever shape and form almost always don’t live even to enjoy them.

Like all others, I have wholeheartedly accepted gifts, respectfully turned down a few, and rejected some of them. Those I rejected earned me some uncomplimentary titles as being controversial or a proud person. I was tagged as a “novice yet to understand the system” by those I also respectfully turned down. And for the ones I accepted, I guess I would appear natural, a loving person if not a grabber in their eyes. Industry best practices to curb the menace of gifts metamorphosing into bribe has been mainly by code of ethics and the capping of the value of supposed allowable or permissible gifts. Despite the sophisticated systems and installations put in place by multi-billion dollar organisations to prevent the abuse of the giving and receiving of gifts, there are still mind-boggling scandals upon scandals concerning gifts. FIFA, the world soccer governing body, was hit with a monumental scandal in the processes leading to the selection of the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World cup. The enactment of rules and code of ethics alone cannot face the aggression of a soul determined to survive or live on gifts from individuals or corporate organisations. It must, however, be stated categorically that despite the tendency of gifts to turn into bribes, there are genuine gift-givers and their respective recipients.

Unlike gifts, a bribe does not bother itself with appreciating people’s past deeds if it wouldn’t put them in any advantageous position for present or future gains or favours. Therefore, the motivation for offering a bribe lies in the prospect of influencing individuals and systems to obtain unmerited favours or benefits. Business moguls know what the offer of gifts with the motive of bribery has done for their organisations and enterprises. Some have touted the practice of bribery as a form of a “key of David” which opens doors no one dares close and closes doors no one attempts opening again. Inundated with Proverbs 17:8, which reads, “Bribe is a charm to the one who gives it, wherever he turns he succeeds,” they always see a possibility of having their way if they wish with gifts.

Until the real intentions are revealed, what constitutes a gift or a bribe depends mainly on the giver. A good amount of examination and discernment by the power of the Holy Spirit can help recipients of gifts decode the encrypted characters accompanying them. So, one may call it a genuine gift from the heart, but it behoves the recipients to interpret the gesture well and respond accordingly. The complexity, however, is when both pretend to see it as a gift, even when the obvious stares at them. At times, the quantum of monies offered as gifts must raise some obvious questions and put the recipients into a quick-thinking mode for a well-deserving reaction. How do you judge the genuineness of someone who wants a favour from you but offers you a gift they have borrowed from others? Can you not see the signs written so clearly that it isn’t about the love and concern about your plight but all to do with what they want? Therefore, bribe givers are one of the most selfish people you can ever encounter. Besides the irreparable damage to the integrity of their facilitators, what they offer as a bribe is always a tiny fraction of their intended gains. Can a needy person part with a colossal amount of money to a relatively more affluent person in a position of authority and still be interpreted as a gift by the recipients?

In Numbers 22-24, Balak, who was the King of Moab, tried to induce Prophet Balaam to put a curse on the approaching Israelites before his people engaged them in a battle. When Balaam refused to go with the messengers sent from God upon a tip-off not to go, the King sent a more powerful delegation, this time with the promise of rewarding him handsomely and giving him whatever he wanted. The story is a clear case of an inducement for Balaam to do something he had signaled Balak wouldn’t do because God had objected to that (Numbers 22:13). God intercepted Balaam’s journey spectacularly when his donkey spoke out to his hearing concerning his engagement with Balak. At Moab, Balak made about four unsuccessful attempts to coerce the Prophet to put a curse on the Israelites. Balak asked him, “Am I not able to reward you?” (Numbers 22:37). Even though Balaam stood his ground by not putting a curse on the Israelites in that particular incident, he ended up teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and engage in sexual immorality. (Revelations 2:14)

2 Peter 2:15, therefore, refers to Balaam as someone who loved the wages of doing wrong. According to Numbers 22:32, God described that trip he embarked upon as reckless. Entertaining those bent on inducing you to do things against God’s word and organisational ethics is a walk on the path of recklessness. Israel finally took revenge on Balaam by killing him in Numbers 31:6 for patronising Balak at their expense and for his gain.

In Matthew 28:12-15, the Chief Priest gave large sums of monies as a bribe to the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb to spread false information about His resurrection. They took it and did exactly that. Bribing officialdom is, therefore, an age-old practice. Instead of pointing accusing fingers at some of the most vulnerable institutions of state who are always at the receiving end, soberly reflect and do the following self-examination;

  1. After receiving those gifts and favours from the politician, how has that influenced your reportage about their wrongs in society, Mr or Madam Journalist?
  2. Honourable Medical Doctor, hasn’t those constant gifts from the Pharmaceutical company influenced your trend of prescription these days?
  3. Project Manager/Engineer, Architect/Quantity Surveyor, Why have you suddenly developed a special like for that particular contractor after receiving that gift from him?
  4. Tender Board/ Procurement Directo, why have you become allergic to all other suppliers and their bids except that particular supplier? And will do everything possible to get them to bid even when they are reluctant to submit proposals?
  5. Headteacher, why are you so fond of that particular child and everything that has to do with him at the expense of the others after his parents started showering you with gifts?
  6. Professor, why have the “brown envelopes” from that particular student aroused your interest and elevated your motivation to help her complete the thesis?
  7. Madam nurse or Midwife, how do gifts from patients or their relatives affect and impact your mood? Are gifts able to turn you on, beaming with smiles, and being extra nice to the givers when they visit your facility? Are you not showing partiality or bias towards the well-to-do who visit your ward? How do you treat the needy and the destitute who hardly have anything to offer as a gift after attending to them?
  8. Commercial or Taxi driver, why have you become used to approaching law enforcement agents with money instead of your driving documents when you are stopped on the highway?
  9. Restaurant waiter, why are you always lingering around the guest you serve after they finish eating at your facility? And why do you serve some customers who visit your outfit with so much excitement and energy?
  10. Dear lawmaker, why has your line of argument and reasoning changed since the exchange of those pleasantries meant to be a gift towards the facilitation of the bill under consideration?
  11. Reverend Minister, haven’t you been influenced by the constant gifts from those individuals? Did it not affect your decision to elevate them in the church’s administrative structure? Will you be able to handle their issues without fear of favour like all others? Are you sure?
  12. Dear Voter, are you easily influenced by a gift to vote in a particular manner against your convictions?
  13. Prospective Father or Mother-in-Law, you suddenly changed your stands regarding your future in-law after the gift started flowing. Today, you appeared to be glued to him even more than your daughter, who introduced him to you. What has changed?
  14. Lawyer or Judge, why the sleepless nights looking for all legal technicalities to set free the culprits whose case you know is bad? Is it what you suspect to gain when you get him off the hook? Is that the same energy you put in when the downtrodden’s rights are trampled upon with impunity and come to you for assistance?
  15. Kingmaker, are you sure your insistence and entrenched position to nominate that person as the successor isn’t because of those gifts he gave you and what you stand to gain should he finally get the nod?

If the answers to the above self-testing kits strike a chord, then you have probably welcomed a stranger called “bribery” into your abode. Kindly let him know he has overstayed his welcome and drive him out before it is too late. Ecclesiastes 7:7 reads, “Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” Deuteronomy 16:19-20 continues, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Bribery has, therefore, taken captive of otherwise resourceful persons, which has, by extension, denied the masses in the society of the equitable distribution of resources.

“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he were not born. Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi? Jesus answered, You have said so.” (Matthew 26:24-25). You will realise how Judas could not still repent even after learning of the betrayer’s fate. Meanwhile, when he asked Jesus whether he was the one to betray him, he had already collected the bribe for that task. Bribe indeed blinds people and corrupts their sense of reasoning and judgment. Judas Iscariot used the money to buy a parcel of Land. Unfortunately for him, it was in that same field he committed suicide and died. The field was then left desolate for only strangers to be buried there. We always use the proceeds from bribery to purchase trouble for our lives (Amos 5:10-12). So, even though the world is suggesting the direct opposite, the Bible is clear in Proverbs 15:27-28 that “A greedy Man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.”

“Affectionately called Iron Mike, Mike Tyson enjoyed a sensational career in boxing, becoming one of the biggest stars and the biggest legends following his retirement”. (From the New York Post Sport), “In a recent episode on his podcast, Tyson had therapist Sean McFarland on as a guest. About death, Tyson said: “We’re all gonna die one day, of course. That means my expiration date is coming close, really soon.” Tyson continued, “I always tell people — they think money’s gonna make them happy, they’ve never had money before — when you have a lot of money, you can’t expect nobody to love you. The false sense of security. You believe nothing can happen. You don’t believe the banks could collapse. You believe you’re invincible when you have a lot of money, which isn’t true. That’s why I always say money is a false sense of security.” So, Jesus said in Luke 12:15-21, “Man’s life doesn’t depend on the abundance of the things he possesses”.

In Acts 24:26-27, Felix expected a bribe from Apostle Paul at one point of his interrogation, so he set him free, but Paul refused to comply. He was, therefore, kept in prison for over 2yrs. Is that not challenging for believers of today? How many of us wouldn’t have bribed our way out of that uncomfortable confinement? If you don’t expect people to bribe you, why do the same to them? Let’s stop inducing people with gifts for them to act in a particular manner. Those who are pretending, feigning ignorance, and classifying the bribes they are collecting as gifts must also cease doing so. John the Baptist unearthed the roots of bribery amongst law enforcement agencies as discontentment and greed. He told them in the face to be content with their salaries (Luke 3:14). According to 1 Timothy 6:6-10, we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it.

The litmus test for a bribe is whether the giver of any gift expects it to influence you in a particular manner for their gain. Is the gift still coming from that same source even when you have persistently refused to do what they expect you to do? Or have they stopped after realising you weren’t influenced the least in your judgment? Can you confidently say whether the last gift you received at home, the office, or the marketplace is a gift or bribe? If it is a gift, praise the Lord and be kind to others as well, but if it is a bribe or appears so, try returning it if practicable. If not, take all the necessary steps to avoid the patronage of future bribes and all of their forms because it has dire consequences on our lives according to Jeremiah 17:11. Gift is divine, but presenting it for inducement is a bribe and, therefore, unholy and sinful. Let’s do everything within our capacity to ensure gifts stays as a gift and do not metamorphose into a bribe. Stay blessed.

Written by Pastor James Agyin

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