Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
At a time when Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips has told the country that "it makes no sense to raid an empty cupboard", the State still found millions to party away at Christmas.
The Sunday Gleaner's access to information requests on Christmas party expenditure for all ministries have so far pulled in only three responses.
The ministries of finance and planning; transport, works and housing; and foreign affairs and foreign trade indicated that they kept parties and spent the bulk of the money on the venue, meals and drinks.
The Ministry of Finance and Planning spent a total of $1.275 million on its shindig that was held at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club.
The ministry paid close to $1 million for the venue, food and refresh-ments. A guest artiste was paid $130,000 while the MC and disc jockey earned $60,000 and $55,000, respectively. Another $40,000 was spent on the sound system and lighting.
Efforts to ascertain the number of employees catered for by the ministry at its staff soiree were not successful.
In 2011, the finance ministry spent approximately $1.13 million for its Christmas party which was held at the Terra Nova All Suite Hotel.
"Please note that for both events, alcoholic beverages were not procured separately. As per attached invoice for Terra Nova hotel, the total beverage cost including a beverage service charge was $214,928.45 inclusive of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks," read a memo to The Sunday Gleaner from Delroy Simpson, director of human resource management in the ministry.
Over at the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, a total of $735,590 was spent to fête the staff at its 2012 Christmas party at the National Housing Trust's Sports Club.
Approximately 450 employees were slated to attend.
"The record reflects that there was no Christmas party in 2011," read a section of the document prepared by the transport, works and housing ministry.
A highly-placed source in the ministry told The Sunday Gleaner that a decision was taken not to host a staff party in 2011.
However, she said the event was staged in 2012 to serve as morale-booster for the staff, as well as to provide a means of socialisation with the new members because the housing portfolio was added to the ministry's purview last year.
The source also pointed out that members of staff contributed personal funds to offset the cost of staging the event.
According to the source, the money spent by the transport, works and housing ministry was well below the $4,000 per person stipulated by the Ministry of Finance.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade hosted its staff Christmas luncheon at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel at a cost of $357,820.49.
Of that amount, $341,900 was forked out for the venue and meal, while $15,920.49 was poured on wine.
The official document also revealed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade contributed $80,000 to the Jamaica Foreign Service Association's staff party that was held at the Spanish Court Hotel.
NO RESPONSE FROM GOV'T
There has been no word from the Government if these Christmas parties were sanctioned by the Cabinet, which would be a reversal of a policy instituted in 2010 by the administration then led by Bruce Golding.
At that time, the Cabinet had decided that no public funds should be spent for Christmas parties, given the state of the economy.
That directive was applied to the entire public sector and was expected to save the State millions.
Last week, an ill Sandrea Falconer, the Government's chief spokesperson, declined to comment on whether staff parties should be held, considering the current fiscal constraints being faced by the cash-strapped Government, which is yet to sign off on a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
"I don't have the facts … . The best person to speak with is the Cabinet secretary," Falconer told The Sunday Gleaner.
Efforts to contact Cabinet Secretary Ambassador Douglas Saunders were unsuccessful.