Government’s (Christmas) party is over

2014-12-21 15:00

Some of South Africa’s civil servants are paying for their own Christmas parties and bringing their own booze as Treasury’s cost-saving measures finally take hold.

In the past, government departments were allowed to allocate money for year-end functions, which covered catering, the venue and, in some cases, ­alcohol. But things are changing.

An official in the department of public works said staff were asked to organise their own “team building” year-end function.

Deputy directors-general were asked to pay R350, chief ­directors R200, directors R150 and junior employees forked out R100 each so they could have a party, the official said.

“Individual units organised a day off [and these] were ­basically termed as team-building exercises. Each branch, such as corporate services, would determine its own theme out of their own pockets,” said another official.

“At many of the parties, there was only catering – just starch, veggies and soft drinks – and people had to bring their own booze. That’s how it’s going to be from now on,” said the ­second official.

He joked that some civil servants were asking their ­journalist friends to host parties and invite them.

A senior official in the department of human settlements said he didn’t go to one of their parties because it was “dull”.

“We didn’t have a funded year-end function. Only a group came together and contributed, and it had nothing to do with the department,” he said.

“Previously, catering and alcohol was paid [for] and we’d get sponsors, but this time I didn’t go because the other parties were just dull. People contributed what­ever they had, from R100 to R20, and they went to open parks as some sort of team building. It’s only fair because you can’t be expected to be drinking using taxpayers’ money,” said the official, who is from Human Settlements Minister ­Lindiwe Sisulu’s office.

Officials in municipalities are also feeling the pinch, calling their parties “sad” affairs. When Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa called employees in to speak to them last week, many thought it would turn into a party – but they were wrong.

A manager in Ramokgopa’s office said: “We went there with empty stomachs expecting him to announce some sort of party, but there was only water and juice, and he thanked us for our hard work and left.

“That was the end. There haven’t been any parties, just sad gatherings of a few people outside the office.”

The only chance city employees have to party on the taxpayers’ tab is at the annual Excellence Awards, which they must be nominated and voted for to attend.

“It’s the only time we can eat and drink for free from government, and people want to make sure they are voted in and they campaign just to be voted for and invited to a free event. It’s been strange because we’re used to funded parties, but we must live with the economic climate,” said the manager.

Last year, the City of Tshwane spent a whopping R15?million on catering for staff who worked overtime, spending that has been criticised as extravagant by opposition parties and civil rights bodies.

Last year, Treasury issued an instruction to all departments, constitutional institutions and public entities that rely on government funding not to spend any money on “nonessentials” like social events unless this was approved by Treasury.

According to the instructions, “[the] accounting officer must ensure that social functions and team-building exercises, including year-end functions, are not ­financed from the budgets of their respective establishments”.

The new rules were sparked by the revelation that 34 government departments spent nearly R194?million on catering and R31.7?million on entertainment in the 2011/12 financial year alone.

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