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Re-routing power

By Sunity Maharaj

Meanwhile, inside the bubble of State power, life goes on unperturbed and uninstructed by the lessons of the Kublalsingh experience.

On Friday, dismissing the pleas for consultation, consideration and review by the national community of film makers, the government dropped the sledgehammer on the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company (TTFC) in a legal manoeuvre designed to open the way for the Trinidad and Tobago Creative Industries Company (TTCIC) with implications far beyond the film sector.

Bear in mind that this is the same government which, just two and a half years ago, pledged itself to "The proper resourcing of the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company and the T&T Entertainment Company" as a pillar in the development of the Arts. (People's Partnership Manifesto, Page 46)

Inside the TTFC boardroom on Friday, it must have felt like suicide. Six unanswered letters to the Minister of Trade, a mamaguy meeting between the minister and aggrieved film producers, and, finally, on November 30, a terse instruction from its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, left the TTFC no choice. The board surrendered and signed on the dotted line, approving a resolution for the TTFC's name to be changed to TTCIC, thereby facilitating the transition into the unknowable world of political expediency.

It must've been a bitter pill for TTFC chairman Christopher Laird, a patriot and champion of the local film and television industry.

Like Wayne Kublalsingh, he, too, could never have imagined the ease of the political lie when he agreed to take the reins of the TTFC in an act of national service.

Like the residents along the Mon Desir to Debe route, film producers feel angry and betrayed and are spending the weekend preparing to put up the fight of their lives. But they are small in number and tiny of muscle and unlikely to go far unless the rest of us understand that their issue is no more about films than the re-route protest was about a highway.

What is at stake is the relationship between power and people in a democracy and the elements of governance: the accountability of government to citizens, the participation of people in the decisions that affect their lives and their country; and the transparency of government actions.

After Reshmi Ramnarine, the State of Emergency, Section 34 et al, we can add to the list the issue of trust.

In the absence of a fully articulated and coherent draft policy and strategy for the development of the cultural sector, why should any one of us trust an initiative that gives a lie to a manifesto pledge, runs counter to stakeholder opinion and is being foisted on the country with an absence of detail?

For background on this issue,you can listen to an online audio clip of the Minister of Trade outlining his case for the yet-to-be-established TTCIC to the Chamber of Commerce and identifying his board appointees as Derek Chin, Meiling, Donna Chin Lee, Calvin French (among others to be named). (http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/12/04/trinidad-tobago-what-direction-for-creative-industries/)

But be warned: Take a deep breath lest your blood boil at the sheer naivete and ignorance in the development approach for the creative sector.

Which brings us to the plan to appoint businessman Derek Chin as chairman of this proposed new State enterprise. A more obvious conflict of interest could not be imagined.

Mr Chin has been confidently promoting his $2 billion "Streets of the World" Carnival/culture project which would extend eastward from his Movietowne complex on Invaders Bay. The promotion is intense—which is surprising given that he doesn't yet own the 27 acres of State lands involved and that initial legal action hangs over the process by which the government accepted his bid to develop Invaders Bay. (For more on this, see http://www.jcc.org.tt/invadersbay.htm)

As with the T&T Film Company, the government has given the greenlight to Mr Chin's project, notwithstanding the questions and concerns raised by stakeholders. Among objectors are the construction industry's Joint Consultative Council (JCC), T&T Chamber of Commerce, T&T Manufacturers' Association and T&T Transparency Institute.

Completely unfazed, the government blithely hurtles along, rushing to meet some curious January 1 deadline.

As land use, Derek Chin's project raises questions about the value and terms of exchange of public assets, the development model for Invaders Bay, the interest of the City of Port of Spain and, possibly, the public's right to free access of the shoreline up to high tide.

When considered alongside the government's proposal to appoint Mr Chin to chair the proposed State-owned T&T Creative Industries Company, the questions become more explosive.

With one foot in a private business designed to exploit the national culture for private gain, and another foot in the State agency responsible for managing the public investment in the creative sector, the risk of the public facilitating the private, at its own expense, becomes dangerously high.

In any case, Mr Chin's suitability for the job of chairman of the TTCIC should be called into question. As private enterprise, one is free to take or leave his vision of building an "Epcot Centre" on Invaders Bay, with streets reflecting the cultures of India, Africa, Syria and China, and the culture of Carnival, replete with mas and pan, wax museum et al. (See http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Chin_s__2b_vision_for_Invaders_Bay-164972616.html). But for the government to elevate the proponent of this vision to the level of guiding force in developing the cultural and creative sector reeks of suspect convenience.

It goes without saying that we need a greater strategic thrust in developing and monetising creative potential. Indeed, there is a case for rationalising the various ad hoc investments taken by successive administrations in the creative sector. But in doing so, the government cannot escape the responsibility for fully engaging the public.

Sadly, having squandered the political space for dialogue and negotiation, it now has no choice but to railroad public opinion and muscle its way forward in trying to stimulate the economy, create jobs and, where required, appease financiers. New politics be damned.

In calculating the political price of dismantling the T&T Film Company, the government may have dismissed the small community of film producers as another vocal minority standing in the way of progress and development. After Kublalsingh, though, it should be more careful.

Like the people of Mon Desir-Debe, our film producers, too, feel the impotence of belonging to a discounted democracy.

But as we have so recently demonstrated, we have the capacity to re-route power and, in so doing, re-claim our own.

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