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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

With all the trauma generated by the escalating murder rate, and the indescribably greater trauma of the threat to Trini US visas by T&T being dubbed (by MSNBC correspondent Malcolm Nance) a “terrorist state”, a more mundane genre of malfeasance is being crowded out from public consciousness. I refer, of course, to the Government’s threat to audit Pan Trinbago, aka, “Way de pan money gorn?”

Pan Trinbago man of the moment, Michael Joseph, was on the news this weekend saying “bring it orn”—the organisation has its audited accounts waiting. The interest in accountability this year, as intimated last week, is a new thing as the appeal of the whole “Carnival makes a profit” scam has worn thin. Now, inquiring minds want to know where the billions handed over to Carnival over the years went.

An answer is in the Sixth Report of the Joint Select Committee on Ministries, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises on The Administration and Operations of the NCC (2013). The hearings were held in 2012, and evidence was taken from the NCC TUCO, the NCBA and Pan Trinbago. A member of that committee was the now Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi.

That report gives the NCC’s 2011 subvention as $124,692,840. A tidy sum, but apparently not enough; additional funding of $61,754,140 was provided for the construction of the Grand and North Stands, and “Ancillary Works”. And, of course, the Ministry of Arts and Multi Culti remembered late some initiatives that needed funding: they got an additional $46 million. (There’s a typo in the report, on p 17, which has it at $46,056.)

So a nice round figure of $231 million for 2011. But whither all this money? The gist is that funds went on regional carnivals, the Carnival Institute, Pan Trinbago, the NCBA, and so forth. The report is seasoned with much moaning about the absence of audited accounts and calls for forensic audits. But one item which can be examined closely is construction of the Grand Stand. Below is an exchange between the CEO of the NCC, and Committee Member, Prof Harold Ramkissoon.

“Prof Ramkissoon: Can you just tell us what was the actual cost of the Grand Stand?

Mr Clarence Moe (NCC CEO): Okay. Let me just give you…

Prof Ramkissoon: Just the Grand Stand.

Mr Moe: Just let me give you—I am going back to the original document if I have it here—$46,087,963; that is the cost, and in the documents you would have seen that based on the value—(Interruption)

Prof Ramkissoon: So, there was a major overrun because the projected cost was $21 million.

Mr Moe: I cannot say it was a major overrun, again, you are fast tracking, and when you are fast tracking your designs must keep pace, it is only after you have done all your designs and your bills of quantities, that is what has happened. So, initially, to get the funding to start the project, they went out with an estimate which was prepared by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure in collaboration with the NCC in having that done.

Prof Ramkissoon: But it has to be a major overrun, you are talking about a projected cost of $21 million and the actual cost was $40 something million, that is over 100 per cent overrun.

Mr Moe: Twenty one million dollars was a figure not based on drawings or bills of quantities that was the whole thing; it was not, when we put the full scope of the work in that, you wanted lounges and you wanted different configuration, that is what it ended up as, and all the details are here for us. I do not think it was a major overrun. I think it was an under estimation at the time because of the details not being there, and you are fast tracking.

Madam Chairman: Could I just ask, what exactly went out to tender?

Mr Moe: Well, nothing went out to tender. There was a selection of contractors who had worked in the savannah before…”

There’s more of course—138 pages, available for download on the parliamentary website—but I’m just following one item. Perhaps Mr Moe’s explanation is not as laughable as it reads and $46 million is a reasonable sum for constructing and dismantling a set of bleachers with some drywall rooms on top. My expertise does not extend to the construction industry. However, in the notes of evidence of the eleventh meeting of the committee, Prof Ramkissoon revealed that for 2006, the North Stand was completed for $1.8 million and in 2011, the budgeted sum was $11 million. (Inflation, I suppose.)

The report duly noted the NCC’s tendering process “has been an area of public disquiet” (sic). But the overarching point is that this very likely describes how Carnival economics works, and it’s not like any of this is a secret to government or public. This document has been available for years on the parliamentary website.

So, in sum: gobs of cash handed out, no tenders for expenditure, no audited accounts returned. If this is an accurate description of the Carnival economy, this whole business seems, to my admittedly jaundiced eye, to be a massive scam. Carnival does not make money, it consumes it in what, more and more, seems like a ritual feeding of some pretty massive macajuels.

Further, anyone whose head isn’t wedged in Carnival’s sweaty tent could list, off the top of their heads, many areas where the $200 million allocated to this year’s debacle would make a real difference—dilapidated schools, medicines for hospitals and CDAP, shelters for abused women and children. But what are these compared to our Carnival? Maybe 3 Canal could write a song about “Let de Gran-Stan money come dong”. I’m sure that’d help.


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