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PRO Fails in His Attempt to Defend the Pan Trinbago Oligarchy Against Charges of Corruption
[This is a review and critique of “Pan Trinbago Defends Itself Against Charges of Corruption,” by Michael Joseph, PRO of Pan Trinbago, published on When Steel Talks]:
At the onset I should indicate that I have known Mr. Michael Joseph for some time, but mostly at a distance. I have admired the work he has done over the years with Southern Marines. One of the things we have in common is a grassroots perspective on the steelband movement. Simply put, pan evolved in response to the social conditions affecting the “lower-class” who therefore should remain the custodians and the main beneficiaries of its development and expansion.
I have also observed him over the years as a member of the Pan Trinbago Oligarchy, a fitting characterization of leadership of the steelband movement as suggested by their practices and policies over the past 35-40 years. I should also acknowledge the many accomplishments of Pan Trinbago, especially those related to young pannists, such as the Pan in Schools Program which prepares them for careers in the steelpan industry and other areas of cultural and festival arts. But overall, their operations have been mired in controversy. Questions about transparency, accountability, financial management capability and, in many cases, experience and expertise to manage a critical emerging industry have been raised about the organization’s leadership. These are just some of the issues which have impeded the forward progress of the steelband movement in the “Post-Goddard” years.
Mr. Joseph should be complimented on responding in defense of the Pan Trinbago officials against whom charges of corruption have been made. After all, he is fulfilling the mandate of his job as the Public Relations Officer by presenting a positive image of the organization. Additionally, he has been a main figure in the steelband movement for many years and therefore should be privy to its inner workings. There were many factual statements in his response, with those I concur; however, I take issue with several points he made.
A “clear history of the evolution of the Steelpan”
First, let me indicate that I have reasonably “clear history of the evolution of the Steelpan.” I have a good understanding of the steelband movement because I have made the study of the steelpan from its origins to today my lifelong work. More importantly, I have been directly involved with the steelband movement since the early 1970s, when I served as a member of the Executive Committee of a top steelband in Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, I have been the director of a steelband in the US for over 30 years. This gives me a broad perspective on the steelband movement. From the mid-1990s I started formerly applying social science tools of analysis to researching, dabbling in theory and offering rational suggestions to steelband administrators. I have organized symposia, presented papers at conferences, and engaged other activities directed to contribute to the maximizing of the economic benefits that accrue to pan players.
In April 1997, for example, at the “Steelband Experience: A Pan Trinbago Symposium,” held at La Joya, in St. Joseph, I challenged the orthodoxy that steelband administrators have an inherent right to manage the finances of steelbands to their benefit and without much accountability to pan players. That belief is based on the administrators being the ones who did all the year round work to keep the band solvent.
Some steelband managers present at that symposium were advocates of that perspective. (The T&T Broadcasting Company has the audio recording of that conference.) And, true to form, many steelband administrators, leaders, managers, captains, etc., have made a living (and a good one at that), essentially skimming of the top of their band’s finances, at the expense of the pan players. Similarly, at the national executive and regional chairmanship levels, the benefits and perks received by Pan Trinbago far outstrip the income received by even the best “crack-shot” pannist.
Why is Pan Trinbago “fighting for its survival . . .”?
I agree with Mr. Joseph that Pan Trinbago (and its precursor organizations) is indeed one of the oldest grassroots organizations in Trinidad and Tobago. The question is why at this juncture “it is fighting for its survival in the space and the arena that it struggled long and hard to establish and maintain for over sixty years.”
Mr. Joseph indicated that “Pan Trinbago produces an audited financial statement annually to NCC, the Minister and the Permanent Secretary, unlike most other entities across this nation.” That is indeed true. But questions should be raised, and have often been raised, regarding the contents of those statements.
“audited financial statements”
Correct me if I am wrong. These “audited financial statements” are included in Pan Trinbago’s report which is presented at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). That report is the basis of decision-making which results, for example as with the 2015 AGM, in the election of officers for the organization. My understanding is that these reports are made available to delegates on the morning of the AGM. Why can’t these reports be made available say, a month before the AGM, so that they can be read, understood, and discussed within individual steelbands, thereby enabling delegates at the AGM to make rational decisions on their band’s behalf? Without some knowledge of accounting, which could be true in the case of some delegates, it may be necessary to get an accountant to explain the financial statements in the reports. Further, as in the 2015 report, critical financial information was missing. That needs to be changed.
I have reviewed several of these “audited financial statements” and my first take is that the auditors themselves need to be audited. For example, the following two phrases recur in each of these audited statements qualifying sections that should be called into question. The first statement which should be subject to scrutiny is the following:
“In common with many non-profit organizations, Pan Trinbago reports gate receipts and donations which are not susceptible to verification by audit practices,” (Pan Trinbago Convention Reports.)
Gate receipts and donations are two main sources of Pan Trinbago’s income outside of the subvention from government. Why are these not susceptible to certification? There are multiple computer software and programs with which accounting for tickets sales can be properly accomplished. Every PC should have Microsoft Excel. No software is needed to add up and report donations!
The second statement also begs the question:
“. . . the financial statements present fairly the financial position of Pan Trinbago as at [date of report] and the results of operations for the year ended, to the best of our information and explanations given to us” [Italics the writer’s] (Pan Trinbago Convention Reports.)
This statement, in my view, absolves the auditors from any “irregularities” that may be present in the financial statements and, in a sense, gives Pan Trinbago officials a carte blanche mechanism for dealing with their improprieties.
These statements are included in the cover letter of each of the auditor's reports I reviewed. Is this a normal auditing practice to qualify an auditor's report as such? I say audit the auditors!
Pan Trinbago: “the whipping horse for all the years of mismanagement, corruption and wastage . . .”
I am in agreement with Mr. Joseph that Pan Trinbago should not be “the whipping horse for all the years of mismanagement, corruption and wastage of our national patrimony.” I read a copy of the most recent report of the Auditor General of Trinidad and Tobago. The Auditor General listed several questionable areas that allude to corruption in various sectors of the nation.
However, Pan Trinbago is definitely responsible for 36 years of “mismanagement, corruption and wastage” of the coffers of the steelband movement. I say 36 years because in 1980 and 1982, Pan Trinbago allocated $50,000 and $100,000 (respectively) from the Pan is Beautiful Festival [in 1982 to purchase materials] for the Headquarters (Pan Trinbago Convention Report, 1984).
What is the status of the Headquarters today? Prime Minister Rowley called the unfinished headquarters an “. . . eyesore which represents the worst of Trinidad and Tobago” (Cardinez 2015). How many millions have been mismanaged, wasted or pilfered to date in the guise of expenditures on the headquarters? Who holds the responsibility for such outright mismanagement and “missallocation” of the finances of the steelband movement? To that should be added the $millions (?) spent over the years in office and meeting space rental, hotel accommodation for guests, and all the other amenities which would be part available at the headquarters complex.
Analysis of the finances of the “steelband headquarters project,” Steelfest (especially Steelfest II), and the panorama aspect of the International Conference and Panorama confirm these as clear examples of “mismanagement, corruption and waste.” For example, to encourage participation in the International Panorama, Pan Trinbago literally “gave away” close to US$1 million to foreign steelbands in the guise of “Appearance Fees.” From my perspective the only criterion foreign “qualified” steelbands had to meet was their “willingness” to come to Trinidad and participate in the competition. For some bands that “willingness to participate” got them as much as US $60,000! My estimation is that “Appearance Fees” cost Pan Trinbago somewhere between US $900,000 and US $1 million.
The International Panorama
The International Panorama (IP) of the International Conference and Panorama (ICP) is a classic example of extravagance and waste.
In October Pan Trinbago hosted the First International Conference and Panorama to the tune of some TT $37 million. As an academician I’m I understand the importance of conferences and I supported the conference as did most of Trinidad and Tobago. But to me, the Panorama was an exercise in extravaganza at great monetary and opportunity costs to pan players in Trinidad and Tobago in general.
Twelve (12) bands from Trinidad and Tobago competed against twelve (12) foreign bands, three (3) from the US, two (2) from Canada, and one each from England, France, Jamaica, Japan, St. Lucia, St. Martin and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The twelve (12) local steelbands were all in the winners’ row in Trinidad’s 2015 National Panorama, four (4) chosen from each of the three categories of Conventional Steelbands. The criteria for choosing the foreign steelbands were not so clear.
Panorama competitions are held in the US (Brooklyn and Miami), London and Canada. The steelbands which won the 2015 NY and Miami panorama did not participate in the IP. The band from England did not win the 2015 panorama there. The band from NY, was a coalition group of sorts including players from several NY steelbands. The band from Maine was also a “coalition group,” formed for the ICP.
Only one of the bands from Canada met similar criteria as the Trinidad and Tobago steelbands, i.e., being in the top three of a 2015 panorama competition.
Foreign bands were also afforded a “handicap.” They were allowed to include fifteen (15) local players in their complement of sixty (60) players. That was one way in which some local pan players benefited from the International Panorama.
The prizes for the IP, in US dollars, was 1st - $250,000, 2nd - $200,000, 3rd - $150,000, 4th - $125,000, 5th - $100,000 and 6th to 10th - $50,000. Bands also received “Appearance Fees” (in US dollars) of $60,000, for the bands from the UK, Europe and Asia, $50,000 to the bands from the US and Canada, $40,000 to the bands from the Caribbean and $25,000 to the bands from Trinidad and Tobago.
These prizes must be placed in context of prizes in other panorama competitions. For example, the first prize in the 2015 T&T National Panorama was TT $1 million (approx. US $166,667) in Brooklyn US $20,000, in the Canada Pan Alive competition each band receives, in Canadian dollars, (US$1 = C $1.30) a $1,200 appearance fee, $500 for transportation and a further 20% of each Pan Alive ticket they sell to a maximum $2,000 and then 5% for each ticket sold thereafter. A first prize of say, US $175,000 to $180,000 seems more adequate, unless in its budgeting for the ICP Pan Trinbago expected to receive revenues from the conference and panorama exceeding TT$37 million cost of the ICP (the IP expenses plus the other expenses associated with hosting the ICP).
The foreign steelbands were each “hosted” by a band local steelband (i.e., provided rehearsal space and pans in some cases, etc.), for which the host band received TT$25,000. What were the criteria for choosing host steelbands? One criterion seems to have been their relationship with Pan Trinbago or local steelbands.
For example, at the time of the IP, some host bands were managed by a member of the then current administration either at the national or regional level. Steelbands falling into this category include Valley Harps, Southern Marines and Sfzorta.
Cost effectiveness was certainly not a consideration in the location of host bands relative to the competition venue, the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. For example, Pan Trinbago also paid for the transportation of players and instruments (where necessary, i.e., with the exception of bands located walking distance from the Savannah.) Harmonites was not selected to be a host steelband even though their Pan Theater has adequate facilities and is located closer to the Savannah (about 4 miles) than all but one, maybe two, of the host bands (Pandemonium, which hosted Panorama Steelband from Japan and Starlift which hosted Pan Coalition from Maine).
Pan Trinbago’s preference was to cover transportation cost from Couva, Marabella, San Fernando, Curepe, Arima, Sangre Grande, and Petit Valley rather than from Morvant Junction.
Could it be that Pan Trinbago and its paid advisors were being vindictive against Harmonites or was this an instance of myopic financial planning?
There is one other important observation of the Pan Trinbago Oligarchy that should be mentioned.
Whether by accident or design, each of the three “out-going presidents” of Pan Trinbago in the “Post-Goddard” period moved to an advisory capacity with ability to influence the operation of Pan Trinbago. Two of the three went on to advisory positions on the NCC and one became a paid advisor to Pan Trinbago. Such are the inner-workings of an oligarchy!
Unfortunately, I am not privy to Pan Trinbago’s data, even though I have good relationships (or at least so I thought), with several of the main actors in the steelband movement (managers and other officers of steelbands, arrangers, tuners, people in the media, etc.) Over the years I have tried to maintain a professional relationship with, and offer my services to, Pan Trinbago. I have had dealings with each of the presidents and many of the officers of Pan Trinbago in the “Post-Goddard” period. However, most have been less than receptive maybe because of my grass-root appearance and perspective. Skepticism, lack of support and even disrespect were hallmarks of my attempts to motivate positive change in the steelband movement.
It will be useful to have access to the ICP’s budget. I wonder who does have the financial report from the ICP? As a “public corporation” Pan Trinbago should be required to make the organization’s financial statements available for public scrutiny. If Pan Trinbago’s Constitution remains in effect; however, steelbands may have to wait until the morning of the next Annual General Meeting (at which elections are held) for those figures.
Nevertheless, I stand firm on the notion that IP’s share of the $37 million cost of the ICP was a waste of resources at the expense of the pan players in Trinidad and Tobago.
The financial fiasco of the 36 years (in the making) headquarters should suggest that the pattern of corruption, mismanagement, and waste is not unique to the Diaz Administration. And many of the charges of corruption and financial mismanagement can be substantiated.
Corruption and the absence of a legal structure for the operation of steelbands
Corruption (or whatever you call it) is part and parcel of the operation of Pan Trinbago and likewise many of the steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago. This is exacerbated by the absence of a legal structure for the operation of steelbands. As a result, the models of ownership of steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago vary from those which are (stated or not) proprietorships and owned by an individual, to those which are clearly corporations.
Several steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago fall into the first category. In some steelbands the owner may be called the “manager” “or “captain,” etc. In many cases the person who controls the money is the “de facto owner” of the steelband.
There are also steelbands, such as Pamberi, which legally are corporations (LLCs) and others (All Stars, for example) which have an associated “charitable organization” status. Many steelbands fall somewhere in-between with management structures similar to social groups or clubs.
This is one area where the Minister of Culture could be useful. There should be laws governing the operation of steelbands. All should agree that a steelband is a business. In fact, the more successful steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago are those which operate as businesses. Such laws should enable steelbands to have, for example, access to credit and money markets. How many steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago can obtain a loan from a bank?
Pan Trinbago should be acknowledged for the global expansion of the steelpan; however, there are hundreds of expatriates and musicians in the Diaspora whose investment in time and money and contributed more significantly to the international, appreciation and expansion of the steelpan and steelband. The challenges faced by steelbands abroad include and transcend many of those faced by steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago. There is not much Pan Trinbago support of steelbands in the Diaspora.
As an example, Pan Trinbago’s support for the steelbands in Brooklyn is minimal, if any. Of course representation of Pan Trinbago at the Brooklyn Labor Day Panorama is one of the perks received by officers at the national and regional levels. The situation with steelbands in Brooklyn has been deteriorating over the years: disappearing panyards due to gentrification and increasing real estate costs, militarization of the J’Ouvert, stagnant prize monies, etc. Pan Trinbago’s officers basking in the limelight and having a good time is an annual sight at Labor Day Panorama. I wonder who covers their expenses?
But let’s talk about Pan Trinbago’s real “financial” investments. What is the status of the Nigerian steelpan company, purportedly formed by Diaz? What is the net worth of Panvesco? What about the investment in the Headquarters? Which “stakeholders” are benefitting from these?
Further, my understanding is that the foreign steelbands have been paid for their participation in the ICP Panorama. What about the payments to TT pannists? Even if they have been paid, why is the late payment to pan players systemic, as with the 2016 Panorama?
“capacity building and institutional strengthening”
With respect to “capacity building and institutional strengthening,” Pan Trinbago was incorporated in 1986. Pan Trinbago officials have had thirty (30) years to build capacity and strengthen the organization. It is not useful to single out any particular administration because each has its merits and demerits. Some of the positive steps made by the organization benefitted the Pan Trinbago officials at the expense of pan players. For example, the executive are now salaried employees. That has added another avenue for financial irregularities. And pan players, the core of the steelband movement, are still at the bottom of the income distribution ladder relative to arrangers, tuners, steelband managers and Pan Trinbago officials.
In 1996, then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, advocated self-sufficiency on the part of the carnival arts interest groups. He proposed fading out funding to Pan Trinbago, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organization (TUCO), and the National Carnival Band Association (NCBA), by decreasing their annual subvention in increasing amounts over a period of four years. Maybe that proposal should be revisited. Most economists would agree that infant industry status is necessary and useful. But after 25-plus years, it’s time for the child to grow up. Thirty (30) years old and still wearing pampers, eh?
Canboulay (Cambule?) versus Mardi Gras
“Today, Carnival has developed into a financially viable industry, heavily influenced by Canboulay groups. Mardi Gras is hell bent on taking back control by any means necessary.”
I am with you here Scobie. Pannists should be the first to benefit from the development of the steelband industry. Control of the steelband movement should not be in the hands of pan players, not the government or business. However Pan Trinbago must undergo an overall “makeover” for this to occur.
Pan Trinbago has become an oligarchy, i.e., a small group of individuals who together control the organization, often for their own purposes. In the past 35-40 years, there have been four only presidents of Pan Trinbago and, even though the presidency has changed, some members of the Executive Committee have held offices for 30 or more years. The current Secretary (now Acting President) for example, has been with Pan Trinbago for over 40 years, holding several offices including Assistant Secretary and Treasurer.
The oligarchy is reinforced by the regional grouping of steelbands. Bands are grouped into four regions: North, East, South/Central, and Tobago. Regional Officers are generally the leaders or other officers of steelbands and tend to be closely aligned to with National Executive, and some may be past members of the National Executive.
President Keith Diaz formerly served as Vice President and External Relations Officer of the Northern Region. Recently resigned Vice President, Bryon Serrette, was a former Northern Region Assistant Secretary.
Additionally, there are many “hangers-on,” some of whom held executive office in the past. They are also recipients of perks and benefits. Sometimes they are rewarded by positions for which they are not qualified, which is not on the best interest of the steelband movement. The head of the Tuner’s Guild, who is not a pan tuner, is one such beneficiary. And he is not the only non-tuning officer on the Tuner’s Guild. President Diaz surrounds himself with various “advisers,” some from among the “hangers-on” group and one a former Pan Trinbago president.
These arrangements help to keep the control of Pan Trinbago in a few hands.
Changes should be made to Pan Trinbago’s constitution to inhibit the oligarchic control of the steelband movement. Such changes should prevent the hijacking of the organization, as accomplished by Diaz and Serrette. The election debacle allowed them to remain in office (illegally, in my view), for the eight years while annually pan players remain unpaid for months after earning the income. Word has it that in the meantime, the money earmarked for them was placed in a short-term CD to the benefit of who knows?
Also, the priorities of the National Executive must be aligned with those of pan players and steelbands. Bryon Serrette must be a happy man today. His wishes for an international panorama came thru. That has been on his agenda even before he became Vice President of Pan Trinbago.
Pan Trinbago definitely has a role to play as the nation capitalizes on the international spread of the steelpan; however, the current administration needs replacement and, if evidence confirms their financial improprieties, they should be indicted and imprisoned accordingly. The organization itself could then embark on a new era of rational decision-making, transparency and accountability to the pan players in Trinidad and Tobago.