Thursday, February 22, 2018

Biting the Carnival funding bullet

Recently completed audits of the accounts of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) and the National Carnival Bandleaders Association (NCBA), as reported exclusively in the Sunday Express, are a serious indictment of their financial management and their accountability for State funds.

Given the financial history of Pan Trinbago, the upcoming audit of the national steelband body’s accounts may well uncover an even worse state of affairs.  Though long overdue, these Government-commissioned audits are to be welcomed as the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts lays the groundwork for a transparent and policy-based funding of the bodies responsible for managing key elements of Carnival.

With the Government under financial pressure, it makes sense for the ministry to get a detailed understanding of how the millions of taxpayers’ dollars that go into Carnival have been used. However, while the extent of financial irregularities uncovered by auditors, Ernst & Young Services Ltd for the period January 2013 to December 2016 is staggering, it is hardly surprising given the track record of these and other bodies in the cultural sector.

That being said, however, this is not a fiasco from which the State can separate itself. While current Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has done the right thing in commissioning the audits, the ultimate responsibility for this state of affairs rests with successive governments which have all turned a blind eye to financial abuses of all kinds as long as it suited their political interest.

It is the State’s failure to implement policies that link State funding to transparent and accountable management that has allowed public funding to become an unregulated trough.

Especially when oil prices are high and money is no problem, governments have used public funds to spread patronage through special interest groups as a means of organising the vote to keep themselves in power.

No wonder, therefore, that the same formula has been adopted by the management of various bodies who have successfully used their access to State patronage to perpetuate themselves in office at the expense of the development of their organisations.

It is only when money gets tight and the competition for limited government funding puts pressure on the party in office that accountability becomes an issue.  While these audits are sure to invoke the ire of many against the executive management of these bodies—and rightfully so—the State has no basis for claiming any high moral ground.

The audits are as much an indictment of the state’s complicity in fuelling the culture of patronage and dependency. The situation has been allowed to take root because of the preference for politics above governance.

There is word that the long overdue National Culture Policy is soon to be put out for public comment. Hopefully, it contains more than the usual bunch of empty platitudes and offers a clear and unambiguous policy framework for state funding of community development, culture and the arts.

For such an objective to be realised, however, the Rowley administration would have to break with the long-established pattern of political funding through State patronage. And that would require courage.