Government has clipped the wings of Pan Trinbago. The steelband body, now mired in financial mess, will no longer be the sole authority in charge of the Panorama competition.
Culture Minister Nyan Gadbsy-Dolly told the T&T Guardian she had to act to "protect the taxpayers' purse and the interest of the panmen, in light of allegations of financial impropriety involving the steel band organisation."
Pan Trinbago is a private non-government organisation, Gadsby-Dolly said, adding: "But our nexus is that the organisation gets significant funding for Panorama, which is the major national festival for the year. When it comes to Government funding we have to be very circumspect."
The last tranche of Pan Trinbago's annual allocation made late last year was $5 million which was to be used to pay remittances to panmen for the 2016 Panorama. Cheques issued to panmen by Pan Trinbago on Thursday bounced.
Asked why the organisation had no money Gadsby-Dolly said: "In its audited accounts Pan Trinbago has admitted to a debt of $31 million. They owe suppliers, panmen and bankers. When the Government gave the $5 million as the balance of the subvention the cheque was made out in the name of the bankers. It could be that the very same bankers were owed money by Pan Trinbago and they took the five million against the debt owed to them."
She said the ministry has been frustrated in its attempts to get information from Pan Trinbago.
"It has been difficult to get a straight answer," she said.
Gadsby-Dolly said Pan Trinbago indicated that it had used some of the $5 million to pay expenses for the bands which came from Tobago.
"They say it was more than they anticipated, but this does not gel with the information coming to the ministry," she said.
"I asked and received the financials for bands coming from Tobago and the figures do not add up. There is some confusion with respect to what they used the $5 million for."
The minister, who described the information from Pan Trinbago as "nebulous at times", admitted to being very concerned since issuing bounced cheques is a criminal offence.
Former executive member of Pan Trinbago Byron Serrette confirmed that the steelband organisation has a huge outstanding debt.
Serrette is no longer on the executive as he resigned late last year after raising concerns about misappropriation of funds. He referred to the financial audit of the organisation which indicated that the outstanding debt was $31 million.
Serrette said by issuing bounced cheques the pan organisation had committed "another fraud against the membership."
The bounced cheques is the latest in a string of financial worries for the Pan Trinbago under the leadership of Keith Diaz. There were previous allegations of the purchase of a luxury vehicle.
Gadsby-Dolly confirmed that the Ministry is aware of the allegations but did not step in when the allegations became public because Pan Trinbago is a private organisation with a membership to whom they should be accounting.
"If this information can be borne out and it is followed by the non-payment of players' remittances, then it is clear that something is wrong," she said.
'There is impropriety and the organisation has not managed the subvention allocated to it to remain financially solvent."
She said even quantifying the debt owed to panmen had been an issue.
"First they said it was $5 million, then they said $7.8 million. We said we need to understand the actual debt owed to the players. They said they had $2.5 million and needed an additional $2.5 million, that would have been the five million. We did not get the list we requested."
NCC to collect
pan gate receipts
The Minister said some of the drastic changes to come include allowing the NCC to now collect the gate receipts from ticket sales at Panorama.
"We will no longer be giving Pan Trinbago money. Prize money, money for suppliers and money for remittances for panmen will now be made available to the NCC," she said.
Apart from the millions in subventions the organisation receives from the State, Gadsby-Dolly said, Pan Trinbago also gets all the money received from the gate from the sale of tickets.
She said: "We are taking steps to put a value on that because it has been nebulous and vague over the years. But this money was meant to help Pan Trinbago."
She said unofficial estimates put the figure for gate receipts for Panorama competitions at over $10 million for 2016.
Given what has transpired with the bounced cheques paid to the panmen, the minister said Government and the NCC will now take over the process.
"NCC is taking direct oversight, so that the monies from the gate receipts will go to the NCC," she said.
Gadsby-Dolly said although the Government is sympathetic to the plight of the pan fraternity and concerned that the money paid to Pan Trinbago for remittances had not filtered down, it will be irresponsible pay the money twice.
On Thursday when word spread that the cheques paid to panmen had bounced, Gadsby-Dolly was in a meeting with NCC chairman Kenny De Silva.
She said: "I can tell you that Pan Trinbago came to the NCC and asked them to provide an interim solution which involved signing a bank document but it is not something that the NCC could have done."
Shortly after the request was denied, Diaz took ill and had to be taken to St Clair Medical Centre. As a result of his falling ill Pan Trinbago has postponed a membership meeting which was scheduled to take place today.
"We are looking on to see what the membership will do. They have said there will be no Panorama under the current executive, but it is the membership who has to do something about that. As the Government, we are bound to interact with the duly elected executive," the minister said.