Monday, February 19, 2018

Put value to our culture, Mr Douglas

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Mark Fraser

 It sends a sad signal about standards in governmental performance that Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Lincoln Douglas could in May 2014 lend his prestige to a NAPA function held to present prize money due since Carnival 2013. 

 It was at Skinner Park in January last year that chutney singer Raymond Ramnarine had been judged the Chutney Soca Monarch winner. Mr Ramnarine naturally expected to collect the $1 million prize either then or soon after. But Carnival 2014 came and went, and Mr Ramnarine remained so dissatisfied with only part payment of the prize that he declined to compete again. 

In presenting the overdue cheque, Dr Douglas expressed satisfaction that the matter was resolved, but offered neither apology nor explanation. He even said he looking forward to an improved Chutney Soca Monarch competition next year, but did not specify what had been put in place to ensure that there would be no repeat of this untoward delay in giving the winner the promised prize.

To ensure that the State is not subject to blackmail by promoters or participants, Government liability for offering and ensuring the payment of Carnival-related prize money ought to be made clear. Certainly, with taxpayers’ money is in play, prizes should be suitably budgeted and subject to timely disbursement. Concerns have already been raised over Government participation in such events in the first place, with promoters now talking as though State support for their profit-making shows are mandatory.

Politicians have gone along with this because they perceive financial support for Chutney Soca, Soca Monarch and other such popular events as a means of garnering political support. Disbursing millions of dollars in prizes is an easy choice for ministers, since it’s not their money being spent. And this is also the reason both the People’s National Movement and the United National Congress when in office have ignored stakeholders’ calls for a proper arts and culture policy, which would include an independent body overseeing disbursements and clear criteria for funding.

Since this will certainly not happen in an election year, artistes at the very least should do their part to ensure that the contracts under which they perform contain clauses about prize monies and timelines, while the Government should also make it clear to promoters and the public that the monies are for prizes only, and not for organisational expenses.

As the minister with direct authority over these matters, Dr Douglas should put this process in train now so that public servants do not end up in the typical last-minute Carnival bacchanal scramble. Citizens should therefore reasonably expect a detailed unveiling of prizes policy from the Arts Ministry in the next Budget presentation, or shortly thereafter.