The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport has decided to scrap a fund-raising drive by its social committee for a Christmas party, after concerns were raised about letters soliciting donations sent to contractors used by the ministry.
Minister Frank Anthony, who said he was unaware of the letters, told Stabroek News yesterday that there is enough cash in the ministry’s coffers and that soliciting funds poses dire “conflict of interest situations.”
“I want to make it quite clear that I was not aware of such a drive and want to say to any contractor who received such a letter to ignore it immediately,” he said. “This ministry does not have a Christmas party, we have a Christmas luncheon, and more than enough has been budgeted towards that cause,” he added.
Anthony further stated that it is his belief that when persons donate to the ministry they will then be expecting favours or expect the ministry to accept shoddy work for contracts awarded. “Nobody out there is under any obligation to give this ministry anything. To contractors who received such letters dump them… that has been cancelled immediately we [the ministry] have no need for this…there is more than enough,” he said.
Stabroek News had received reports and a copy of one of the solicitation letters from an irate contractor, who felt that it was unscrupulous of the ministry to ask for funds for a Christmas party for staff. The businessman felt that the letter was like “opening Pandora’s Box,” setting a negative precedent for other ministries and government departments bombarding the business community.
The signatory to the ministry letters signed on behalf of the Permanent Secretary Alfred King, who acknowledged that he was aware of their distribution. However, King explained that the drive, which he named “our gift fund,” was in its second year and had stringent accounting management. King said that throughout the buying and distribution of presents for staff, which the donations would go towards, there was strict record keeping and auditing.
The idea to garner funds to buy presents, he said, came about since contractors would normally want to give gifts year round to staff members who would have been helpful to them.
Accepting gifts in any form, King noted, was not sanctioned by his ministry and staff members were aware of this. The “gift fund,” he said, was the brainchild of the ministry’s social planning committee, which wanted to give staff of their ministry “a bigger and more exciting social” in recognition of their year-long hard work, as a part of the giving back synonymous with the Christmas season.
He said that contractors were aware that contributing was not mandatory, while adding that some even were the first to ask about a give back initiative.
He ended by saying that in no way did he want anyone to feel obligated to give and if the organizers had realized that it would pose a problem, they would not have distributed the letters. (Marcelle Thomas)