(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Questions are now being raised about the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts’ (MCDCA) decision to fork out $4,000 on a cake while ministry workers claim they had been facing problems in the recent past to get basic office supplies.
The 32 x 40-inch sponge cake was decorated with the CARIFESTA Trinidad and Tobago logo and was the main feature at the thank-you reception for volunteers hosted by the ministry on Thursday night at the National Academy for the Performing Arts.
The cost of the cake was confirmed by an employee of the Kiss Baking Company, which got the contract to bake the dessert.
Guardian Media was told that some members of staff who were present at the function were taken aback and even upset by the size and cost of the cake, while other guests marvelled at its size and took selfies to capture the moment.
One attendee said that in her speech, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly stated that they were “all a part of something big, so let’s partake of something big,” in reference to CARIFESTA and the cake. CARIFESTA XIV was held between August 16 to 25 and it cost $43 million for this country to host the event.
Well placed sources said on Thursday as the ministry celebrated the success of the event, there was a cutting ceremony involving the minister and John Arnold, president of the Copyright Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago, and then guests were invited to partake.
In addition to the $4,000 cake, guests were treated to a variety of food choices. On the menu, there was pastelles, fruit and fresh salads, Indian delicacies, soups, pastries, etc. There were three bar stations with a very wide range of liquor and other drinks. Efforts to confirm the cost of the entire event were unsuccessful.
Guardian Media Contacted PriceSmart which also bakes cakes. An employee told us that the biggest cake they produce is a full sheet (18X24X2 inches) and that costs $320. This size of cake serves 80 to 100 people, PriceSmart said.
An employee of the ministry who was understandably upset at the wastage and who requested anonymity said before CARIFESTA XIV there was a lack of basic supplies for staff to carry out their jobs. “Even paper clips we didn’t have,” the employee said.
The employee explained that workers are now using supplies leftover from CARIFESTA.
In March of this year, the staff of the NWRHA (NorthWest Regional Health Authority) received a memo warning them about their toilet paper usage, while in May employees of NALIS (National Library and Information System Authority) were informed to bring their own toilet paper and toilet supplies due to a shortage of funds.
Questions to the minister:
Questions were posed to the minister via WhatsApp about the event and the cake in question one day after the event—on Friday.
What was the nature of the event? Who was your core guest list? Where was the event held? What was the cost to host the event? What was the cost of the very large cake that was featured at the event? Who provided the cake? How were the size and specifications arrived at? Where did the money come from to host this event?
The minister did not respond to the questions sent via WhatsApp, although she read the message.
On Saturday, the communications department of the ministry sent an email response: “MCDCA hails Selfless Service of Staff and Volunteers at CARIFESTA XIV,” without once mentioning the cake or cost.
“CARIFESTA XIV has been hailed by the region as one of, if not the most successful edition of the festival held since inception. The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts would like to thank the Host Country Management Committee, the CARIFESTA Secretariat, and all members of staff of the Ministry who went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver this festival with excellence.
“We were also fortunate enough to have over 300 volunteers who offered their services freely, operating at different levels before and during the event, contributing greatly to its success and efficient implementation. Without their critical input, CARIFESTA XIV would not have been the success that it was. All told, each of these volunteers would have given, on average, over 100 hours of unpaid service to their country in the period leading up to and throughout CARIFESTA XIV; at the airport, in the Grand Market, at performing spaces, at Community festivals, creative zones, assisting with protocol arrangements—no area was left untouched.
“With the selfless and patriotic service of staff and volunteers in mind, numbering well over 500 people, the ministry held an appreciation event at NAPA on Thursday, 26th September 2019, where certificates of commendation were distributed to staff and volunteers, and thanks were proffered to those who so selflessly gave of their time to make Trinidad and Tobago proud.
“We were happy to have our CARIFESTA XIV brand ambassadors, Neval and Nishard, as well as Nailah Blackman, volunteer their time to provide live entertainment and toast these patriots, many of whom were young persons that simply wanted to be a part of making CARIFESTA XIV the best it could be. The certificates were well received, as a badge of honour for service rendered. We hold up the volunteerism of these patriots, including our staff, as one of the best examples of selfless service which, if emulated, will redound to the benefit of this nation we all hold dear.”
Economist: More thought should have gone into spending so much for a cake
At least one economist said more thought should have gone into spending such a large fee for a cake.
Dr Indera Sagewan-Alli said the economy of Trinidad and Tobago was not very healthy at this time.
“A purchase such as this, in the context of the difficulties that people are having with respect to finding jobs or keeping jobs, the fear factor that exists in the society with respect to eking out a very basic living out of it.
“This is more in line with a level of consumption that we can no longer afford. Government really has a responsibility to lead the charge and to lead the way in helping the wider society to make the necessary adjustments for times like this such as this requires.
“This does not reflect a government leading the way wand pointing the way of how we should be spending in difficult times,” Sagewan-Alli said.