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Time for forensic audit of Carnival interest groups

Published: 
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

It is perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of the annual Carnival celebrations that for all the millions of taxpayers’ dollars allocated to the special interest groups every year via the National Carnival Commission (NCC), mounting debts and financial shortfalls are a recurring theme for these entities.

Since there is no doubt about the revenue-generating potential of this country’s biggest national festival, the continued heavy dependence of these entities on the Treasury and the absence of transparency in their financial activities, raise the question of why their operations are not subject to much closer scrutiny, including parliamentary oversight.

At present, only the operations of the NCC are examined by a committee of Parliament. However, it might be time to go one step further and make whatever legislative and policy adjustments are needed for full, annual accountability by the bodies that represent calypso, mas and pan.

The nation needs to hear much more about the operations of these groups, how they generate revenue and their efforts to make good use of their budgetary allocations to advance T&T’s cultural agenda and overall development.

Indeed, reservations anyone might have had before about the need for more accountability and transparency from the three interest groups should be discarded given the fact that one them, Pan Trinbago, is already embroiled in the first major pre-season bacchanal of Carnival 2017. Since financial concerns are at the core of the controversy shaking up the steelband fraternity since early November, there should be swift intervention by the NCC and Culture Minister Nyan Gadbsy-Dolly in the interest of T&T’s taxpayers.

Although funding to the Carnival bodies has been cut by approximately 25 per cent this year, the fact is that they are still collecting substantial sums of money from a shrinking pool of national revenue. Pan Trinbago, for example, will get some $23 million, although that group has not fully accounted for its 2016 expenditure.

The rumblings from pan players are getting increasingly strident, with many expressing anger, frustration and displeasure at the way the affairs of Pan Trinbago are being managed.

Matters are likely to come to a head within the next few days. Pan musicians, who claim they have not been paid for their participation in the 2016 Panorama competition, will be picketing the offices of Pan Trinbago today demanding the immediate resignation of president Keith Diaz and his entire executive.

There are also threats of a boycott of Panorama 2017 and the staging of an alternative pan event called Pandrome.

Indeed, the pan body has been shrouded in a great deal of controversy ever since former vice president Bryon Serrette, who resigned from the organisation on November 1, publicly questioned financial transactions and claimed decisions and actions had been taken without the knowledge of the group’s central executive.

Those questions and allegations have not yet been properly addressed by Mr Diaz, or any of members of his executive. There is also the matter of the extraordinary meeting of Pan Trinbago in Port-of-Spain on December 28 which ended in disarray.

Mr Diaz, who has been very economical with his responses to the concerns raised by disgruntled pan men and other concerned stakeholders, needs to more fully explain the reason why the steelband body is facing mounting debts, why pan players and service providers are still waiting to be paid—in some instances bills date back to 2014—and the steps that will be taken to return the organisation to optimal financial health.

What is particularly worrying is that controversies like the one currently embroiling Pan Trinbago have happened many times before with one or the other of the Carnival interest groups. This is a strong indicator of chronic deficiencies in their operating systems. It is time for a full, forensic examination of how these entities spend the nation’s money.