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Govt. to reduce catering to "tea and biscuits"

Government Ministries have been asked to cut costs as part of their preparations for the 2020-2021 Budget, and these include reducing catering to just “tea and biscuits” for all office meetings. 

Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, Leasiosiofa'asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, confirmed the budget-connected cost-cutting measure during an interview with the Samoa Observer on Tuesday.

A pre-budget C.E.O. Forum was convened for all heads of Government ministries and agencies where catering was among eight agenda items that the top bureaucrats discussed, as part of preparations to formulate the annual budget.

Leasiosio said the biscuit and tea measure may be adjusted, depending on the scale of the forum, but the message to all the Government Ministries is to avoid unnecessary spending of taxpayers’ money.

"This is a practice we are trying to remind the Ministries not to make [catering] expensive," he said. 

"As I said, every sene counts,. And we have records of some years ago, the [catering costs] are very excessive. It's like Ministries look forward to meetings because they always order large plates of food, [but] that's taxpayers' money wasted."

Emphasising that the new measure could be adjusted to suit the occasion, Leasiosio said the Government should be seen to be “walking the talk” when it came to cost cutting.

"It is a practice we are pushing towards our Ministries, but not only a push, we have to be seen that we are walking the talk," he said. “But this does not mean this will be just biscuits forever, there are times when it needs to adjust when there are big events.”

There is a risk of meetings and big events increasing the Government’s operational costs, added Leasiosio, which he said could come at a cost to development projects.

"Meetings and big events should not be treated the same or else operational costs will take up all the money instead of development projects."

The C.E.O. said operational costs are last on the list of payments using revenue coming into the national purse, and Ministries are encouraged to keep it to a minimum to ensure more funding is available for capital spending.  

Last year a monitoring report on public budgets, catering expenses incurred by officials at over a dozen Government-run corporations totalled over $50,000 tala.

A total of 13 Government corporations overspent catering allocations to the tune of $58,500 tala for the September quarter in 2017/2018.

Catering expenses are limited to the Minister and Chief Executive Officer’s outputs of $6,000 tala, but the quarterly review indicated that they had spent “beyond the full year appropriation”.  

At the top of the list is the Ministry of Justice Courts and Administration (M.J.C.A.) which exceeded its budget to the equivalent of $11,460 tala. Not far behind was the Ministry of Police and the Samoa Prisons Corrections Services (S.P.C.S.) which spent $12,840 between them. 

Other ministries that overspent on food include the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Natural Resources, Education, Public Service Commission, Revenue, Ministry of Women, Electoral Office, Finance and Health. 

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