Unfair criticisms - Finance ministry defends million-dollar spend on Xmas party
The Ministry of Finance has moved to clear the air regarding the spending of $1.275 million on its 2012 staff Christmas party.
In an extensive response to The Sunday Gleaner, the ministry argued that the article last Sunday "gave the unfortunate depiction of the minister of finance and planning as being insensitive in allowing ministries to stage Christmas parties from the public purse against the background of extreme fiscal challenges".
"Contrary to the views depicted in the article, the minister is very aware of and concerned with the tight fiscal space with which the country has found itself," added the ministry in the release from its Communication and Public Relations Unit.
The unit said its social activities are planned by a Staff Social and Outreach Committee (SSOC), which is comprised of staff drawn from various departments.
"The SSOC also plans Labour Day activities, and has raised funds for the beautification of the Allman Town Infant School which it has adopted."
The release also claimed that, being mindful of the delicate state of the country's finances, the SSOC sought to curtail the social activities within the guidelines of the 'Discretionary Expenditure for Staff functions, Awards and Staff Welfare' issued by the Cabinet Office on September 11, 2011.
The circular stated that, "Effective April 1, 2012 all ministries, department and agencies are allowed to hold social functions for staff providing that government/employer contribution for the 2012-2013 financial year for staff welfare activities, including Christmas functions, is to set at a maximum of $5,000 per employee ..."
The finance ministry argued further that its expenditure on its staff function was within the "discretionary expenditure for staff functions, awards and staff welfare" outlined in the circular.
In addition, the ministry said to minimise its financial input, the staff organised several fund-raising events throughout the year and the proceeds were reserved specifically for the Christmas party.
"In addition, each staff member who attended was required to contribute $500, and their guest $1,500 to offset some of the costs for staging the event. In total, approximately $400,000 was contributed from the staff's effort to the cost of the event.
"The SSOC and general staff at the Ministry of Finance and Planning take offence to the tone of the article which did not acknowledge that they contributed to the event," said the ministry, even though that was not mentioned in the official documents released to The Sunday Gleaner.
The ministry also defended its decision to stage the event at the Caymanas Golf Club, which it noted is owned and operated by the Urban Development Corporation, a state entity, and as such, "the ministry would benefit from significantly discounted rates and the revenues earned would be filtered back into the operations of government".
The finance ministry rejected claims that the number of persons catered for was not known, as it pointed to information contained in the Access to Information data supplied to The Sunday Gleaner.
The ministry pointed to an invoice in the data which showed the catering was done for 350 persons, inclusive of staff and guests at the event.
Editor's note: The number of meals catered for was in the ATI document but this was not clear, and efforts to get an exact number from the finance ministry failed.
In our story 'Ministries spend millions on Xmas parties' last Sunday, it was not made clear that the $80,000 which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade contributed to the Jamaica Foreign Service Association's staff party was in 2011 and not 2012 when the ministry spent just over $357,000 for its Christmas luncheon.