• Scottish Liberal Democrat Jeremy Purvis described the scale of the bonus packages as "unacceptable" Pic PA
Nearly 37 million in bonus payments was handed to senior public sector employees during 2008-09, with a large chunk of the cash spent within Scotland's NHS.
The pay-outs were revealed in Freedom of Information requests to the country's public sector bodies. A total of 26m of "distinction awards" were paid by the health service to senior doctors and managers.
Other big payers included Scottish Water, with 4.2m handed over from the publicly owned company's bonus fund.
Scottish Government officials racked up 1.8m in bonuses, the packages described as "core" payments and including 89,000 in bonuses for seven top grade civil servants.
The Scottish Prison Service bonus payments during the year-long period stood at 1.3m, while Scottish Enterprise shelled-out 912,300.
Other sizeable pay-outs were 247,000 by Registers of Scotland, 245,700 by the Scottish Agricultural College and 155,400 by Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd.
Employees at Sport Scotland received 97,700, while officials at the Scottish Qualifications Authority got 87,700.
Historic Scotland made bonus payments of 81,000, while Scottish Natural Heritage paid out 78,500. The Water Industry Commission for Scotland paid 73,500, with HM Inspectorate of Education handing out 60,000.
Opposition politicians said the payments were a reflection of how the bonus culture had been allowed to spread from the financial services sector and were no longer appropriate with job cuts looming.
Lib Dem spokesman Jeremy Purvis described the scale of the bonus packages as "unacceptable" and accused the SNP Government of propping up a "bonus culture".
"There have been repeated calls for the Scottish Government to get a grip on this issue and most people will think that this is unacceptable during these hugely difficult economic times," he said.
"In the climate of budget reductions when lots of low-paid people are affected this is very much the wrong thing. Some people in the public sector are also vulnerable to losing their jobs, which makes these bonuses to a few senior people even worse."
Purvis called on the Scottish Government to support action to end bonus payments for well-paid public sector employees during the next year.
The bonuses were defended by public sector bodies, including Scottish Water, which claimed it needed to pay staff the extra cash to encourage them to deliver "greater savings" for customers.
Helen Lennox, head of corporate affairs at the company, said: "Scottish Water has cut the costs of running this utility by 40 per cent, ensuring stability in water and waste water bills at the same time as delivering the largest investment programme per household in the UK.
"This is the context in which incentive payments have been made since Scottish Water was formed in 2002."
A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said that no-one was paid more than 5 per cent and that the bulk of the bonuses went to frontline staff such as prison officers or those managing them.
The spokesman added: "The bonus scheme is part of the overall pay package and any payments for performance are only approved after strict criteria has been met."
Scottish Enterprise said bonuses were needed to motivate and reward its "highest performing employees".
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government said it had taken action to curb bonuses and that ministers and civil servants had accepted a pay freeze.
A spokesman said: "These figures mostly relate to NHS distinction awards which the Scottish Government has now frozen, both in terms of the number of health staff receiving them – something which is not happening in the rest of the UK – and their actual value.
"We want a review of NHS distinction awards to make them fairer so they better reflect the current economic climate. That is something we are taking forward with the new Westminster Government."
Core Scottish Government bonuses had fallen by a third since 2006 and were around 60 times less than those paid across UK Government departments, he added. "The pay of senior Scottish Government officials is a reserved issue so decisions on that framework are taken by Westminster.
"In the wider public sector, Scottish ministers have set an example by taking a pay freeze, which will also apply to senior civil servants, and the Cabinet has agreed to extend that approach to the highest paid people across the public sector under our remit."
The sums paid in bonuses to Scotland's public sector by organisation
Scottish Water 4.269m
Scottish Government officials 1.887m
Scottish Prison Service 1.330m
Scottish Enterprise 912,300
Registers of Scotland 247,000
Scottish Agricultural College 245,700
Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd 155,400
Sport Scotland 97,700
Scottish Qualifications Authority 87,700
Historic Scotland 81,000
Scottish Natural Heritage 78,500
The Water Industry Commission for Scotland 73,500
HM Inspectorate of Education 60,000