Not even ‘gifted’ water for German civil servants

The Guardian

Stuttgart, July 20:

There is no such thing as a free lunch. And in Germany that now applies to cups of coffee and even glasses of tap water.

In an effort to stamp out sleaze the government has forbidden 50,000 civil servants in the finance ministry from accepting gifts of any sort, including hot and cold drinks. It sent out memos to the department’s workforce warning them that even a free glass of water could be the slippery slope to imprisonment.

A government spoke-sman yesterday confirmed the “ban on the acceptance of all gifts” for employees associated with the financial matters of citizens or companies.

The ministry’s trade union leader, Andreas Meyr, dismissed the regulations as “absurd” and the newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung said tax officers in Bavaria were fighting to overturn the rules. In a letter to Germany’s finance office director, Karl Kuhn, they wrote that it was “unreasonable to suggest that a glass of water or a cup of coffee could jeopardise the loyalty of employees”. But Kuhn justifies his stance by citing an example 25 years ago in which tax officers ended up in prison after being bribed to overlook taxable imports and exports.

“Even then, it all started with a free cup of coffee,” the newspaper reported. The new rules have received the full backing of the finance ministry’s chairman of staff, Dieter Dewes. The finance minister, Hans Eichel, also believes that staff should do everything possible to avoid giving the impression of being ‘easy to influence’.

A memo sent to employees at the finance office in 2004 said it was permitted to accept pens and calendars.