Based on the size of their annual subventions, the Carnival interest groups are the equivalent of medium-sized businesses and should be consistently contributing considerable value to this country's Carnival industry. However, recent forensic audits into two interest groups—Pan Trinbago and the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians' Organisation (TUCO)—reveal worrying levels of mismanagement and a lack of transparency.
Today's in-depth report on the dismal financial state of TUCO would not come as a complete surprise to the calypso fraternity. The organisation's chronic state of indebtedness has been public knowledge for years. What the clinical examination of the calypso body by auditors Ernst and Young (EY) has revealed is an operating system which facilitates large scale leakage of state funds.
Particularly disturbing is the lack of accountability from TUCO's executive in the face of high levels of expenditure that are not contributing to the advancement of the art form, or the welfare of calypsonians and other stakeholders.
With just a month to go to Carnival 2020, there might not be time to address the many issues exposed by the EY audit. However, it can no longer be business as usual for TUCO and the other interest groups, not when taxpayers' money is involved.
The current arrangement with the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and the three interest groups does not work. All are in debt, including the NCC, and none have generated the level of revenue or displayed the innovation and professionalism of private sector entities that have been revolutionising the festival in recent years.
A review of the legislative framework under which NCC and the interest groups OPERATE seems overdue at this stage. Also, the audit findings demand further action, not only to stop the haemorrhage of funds but ensure those responsible are held accountable.
So far, Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has been very silent on the audits and their findings. However, sufficient evidence is now in her hands to warrant corrective action for what has been, at the very least, wanton mishandling of millions of taxpayers dollars.
The problem with the interest groups is that their executives are populated with officers drawn from the art form who may not necessarily have the skills and professional training to manage multi-million dollar enterprises. An operating model is needed that will ensure the activities of these elected individuals are backed up by administrative staff in various disciplines, including managerial, accounting and other professionals.
It should also be the case that these entities remain fully functional year-round, producing shows promoting the culture, in ways that will generate revenue and contribute to the ongoing development of the Carnival industry and not be dependent annually on state funds.
It is time to clean up the mess, power down the debts and get down to the serious business of cementing T&T's global ranking as the Mecca of Carnival. It must start by dispensing with these old failing systems of waste and mismanagement.