Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Change to survive

As the bad economic news keeps rolling in, the cash-strapped Government remains bogged down in a daily quest to find hush money for the large number of interests with a call on the Treasury.

Among the most desperate these days are the Carnival interest groups for whom it will all be over in just over two weeks’ time when the Merry Monarch leaves town. For many, it will be a triumph just to survive this season of massively reduced State funding.

Among those already ringing alarm bells is the iconic Calypso Revue tent founded by the legendary Lord Kitchener. Faced with smaller audiences and a one-third reduction of the $150,000 it received from the State last year, the Revue on Tuesday invoked the spirit of Lord Kitchener in an SOS to the public and private sectors to step forward and save the calypso tent.

If it is lucky, it might find a saviour as Invaders steelband did when it was quickly picked up by Shell after its title sponsorship arrangement with Caribbean Airlines fell through.

What is being played out throughout the Carnival sector specifically, and in the economy generally, is the national failure to transform the economy through diversification and the creation of new poles of growth.

For all the talk and money spent on this mission over the years, Trinidad and Tobago has hardly even begun the journey of change.

The trauma being experienced in the Carnival sector underscores how little the Government understands the Carnival economy in particular, and the creative economy, in general. In addressing the creative sector in his 2018 budget, Finance Minister Colm Imbert had not a word to say about Carnival, the dominant element of T&T’s creative economy.

He had nothing to offer about any plan to maximise its capacity to earn foreign exchange, strengthen its linkages to the rest of the economy, grow the sector or decrease its dependence on State funds. Instead, he regurgitated plans for the development of the film and fashion industries and promoted an Artiste Portfolio Development Programme for the music sector to support artistes on the “verge of becoming export ready…”

In ignoring the Carnival economy, Minister Imbert was merely maintaining the State’s myopia about a sector historically viewed through electoral lens and not as a valid economic sector worthy of serious economic analysis, policy and strategy, notwithstanding the tomes of analysis commissioned over the years on behalf of international agencies.

The consequence of this attitude has been to entrench interests within Carnival that negate change and militate against independent entrepreneurship.

It is hard not to feel the pain of those who find themselves without the resources to carry forward the legacy of a legend like the Lord Kitchener.

Like them, we hope that the Revue’s pleas will find a supportive response from the calypso-loving community, whether within the corporate sector or beyond.

However, whether it succeeds or not for Carnival 2018, the imperative of change persists if the foundational pillars of Carnival are to survive and thrive into the future.