Stop the Payola Carnival!

First Published: 2001-07-01

Well the party season is just about over again. Like many other people in the private sector I-m sure, the requests from government ministries or departments came in to donate to their staff Christmas party. Obviously they are targeting businesses that they "help" throughout the year in the hope that we will "pay up" for services rendered.

I find this practice not only unethical, but extremely presumptuous. Today-s (December 10, 1998) call went something like this:

Caller: "Hello this is Mr. X from the XXX department, we are planning our staff Christmas party, having received approval from the boss we are calling for a donation since we help you throughout the year."

Response: "Hi Mr. X, thank you for calling. I would suggest that we simply offset the charges for each of our parties."

Caller: "Sorry, I-m not sure what you mean."

Response: "Well we do a tremendous amount of business with your department, so whatever you were going to donate to us for our party, you can use to offset the charges for your party."

I don-t know what other businesses do but if there are people who assist us through out the year our company usually gives a token of our appreciation at Christmas. This gift, while not guaranteed, could be a ham, a turkey, a bottle of liquor, a box of chocolates or a box of cookies. This is a thank you for services rendered and by no means should be construed as a debt we owe.

The conversation continued and I explained to Mr. X that we are giving gifts to a few of his workers that our co-workers feel give them the best service through out the year, and we do not think we should also be contributing to their "party".

In hindsight I wish I had suggested that if each of his workers put $5 in the pot, they could end up with enough proceeds to fund a nice little office party. This is the approach taken in many countries.

Mr. X responded that he understood "what was being indicated and we should leave it like that."

I am told this goes on in almost every department and many people give because they are afraid of reprisals from the staff in the department. In other words, they will make your life miserable when you have to utilise their services. If this happens one has the right to complain to the highest office in the land. But in too many instances we just throw our hands in the air and accept this spitefulness.

Help a Charity Instead.

It would be more palatable if Mr. X had suggested that his department was hosting a party for some charity. But for their staff? Come on! In this day and age when employees of suppliers are forbidden to accept lunch or even a T-shirt, we still live in the dark ages with this practice. Not only that, one would think they would be grateful for the opportunity to serve their clients, but no it would appear that it is us who must be grateful to them for keeping their collective seats warm. With attitudes like this is it any wonder one is so impressed with the service provided by the people at Sun International? You almost come away from Atlantis feeling guilty that you didn-t tip the waiter or waitress more than the 15 percent gratuity.

Better still, why not put $5 each per month into a pot to be donated to a charity at Christmas time each year. Wouldn-t this be in the true spirit of Christmas and set an example for others to follow?

If these approaches were taken it may help one accept the requests in a less hostile manner.

Public Relations

In addition to requests for parties, numerous government agencies or departments ask for assistance with their public relations efforts by placing an advert in a newspaper supplement or booklet and the like.

Please spare me! We pay a lot of taxes, and if a PR exercise is necessary the proceeds should come from the government-s annual budget, not from the same people who are taxed to provide their revenue in the first place. If the request was for a special anniversary or the like one may consider it. But to make a request for routine advertising, many people I speak with think this is a horrendous practice.

Something for You, and Something for the Horse you Rode in on.

I could just imagine what I would be told if I were presumptuous enough to call one of the businesses in the private sector that we do business with to request a donation toward our staff Christmas party or to help with our advertising. On second thought I don-t think I want to imagine what I would be told. Even coming from the automotive industry I would not want to hear the resultant profanity.

The saying similar to "Something for you, and something for the horse you rode in on" would be like a Sunday school lesson compared to what might be said.

Cease and Desist.

Hundreds of businesses contribute toward charitable organisations to assist the less fortunate in our community or cultural programmes etc without much hesitation. I think requesting public relations assistance and proceeds for a party are practices that should be forbidden by government ministries, agencies, departments or corporations. As a matter of fact, I believe that government employees and agencies must seek Cabinet or Ministry approval to accept donations of money or other items. Obviously this requirement is ignored.

Let-s stop the payola carnival for a second and remember that government ministries, departments and agencies are supposed to be there for the benefit of the private citizen and business, not the other way around. Accountability must be apparent. Service provided should not have to be returned in equal value of cash or in kind.

Let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year. My resolution will be to continue to draw the line at contributing to this form of corruption that attempts to place people in a prejudiced position in front of the law. I trust the resolutions of many government departments, agencies and ministries will include the promise that they will not ask businesses for "payola" in the future.

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