A new home for the Desperados Steel Orchestra could mean additional foreign exchange and a chance for cultural diversification.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell urged the band to make full use of the facility at the official sod-turning ceremony yesterday at the corner of Nelson and George Streets, Port-of-Spain.
Delivering the feature address, Rowley said building the new home for the steelpan orchestra was part of the Government’s commitment to using culture to contribute to diversification.
The new home for Desperadoes will cost taxpayers $14 million and the Prime Minister urged the group to make sure the investment was a worthwhile one.
Rowley also urged the band to ensure that the space is one of safety and one where young people, especially young girls, will feel safe.
“If you meet that yardstick, you would secure the future of this facility. If, on the other hand, after we spend all this money and I sweat as I am sweating now in all this ole talk, when it is built and it is concrete and galvanise and whatever else, that the report from this site, if who do what to who and who get shot here and who kill who here, this investment would have been wasted and it would fail,” the PM said.
Mitchell meanwhile hailed the new home of the Desperados Steel Orchestra, saying that it would generate additional opportunities to “showcase Trinidad and Tobago’s rich culture while generating foreign exchange when tourists visit the capital city.”
“It gives tourists, visitors and our locals a chance to immerse themselves deep into the history of the steelpan, witness its creations and lose themselves in the melody,” Mitchell said.
The band was initially located in Laventille but moved to Tragarete Road due to concerns over space and safety.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley second from right, on his arrival at the Desperadoes Pan Theatre sod-turning ceremony on Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday is greeted by Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Stuart Young, Port-of-Spain, left, south MP Keith Scotland and Tourism and Culture Minister Randall Mitchell.
Mitchell said the new location could mean increased foreign exchange, since as many as 3,000 people come into the city from a cruise ship.
He said it is the ministry’s intention “to expand our options and attractions for our visitors, especially our cruise visitors. We are more than Maracas Beach and the Botanical Gardens. We wish to give our visitors an opportunity to experience our very rich culture and heritage.”
He said the site could create “limitless earning potential and possibilities through sustainable business models.”
“It is my hope for Despers that you all understand and seize these opportunities. It is my hope that the pandemic has allowed us and given us ample time to reflect and to establish our confidence that our culture is the richest in this region and it is now time to reap what our ancestors have sown,” Mitchell said.
Rowley also hammered the need for economic diversification once again.
He said millions of dollars in infrastructure have been abandoned in various diversification projects that were stopped because of naysayers.
He mentioned the Labidco site, the proposed aluminium smelter plant, Tamana industrial site and the shelved Sandals project in Tobago.
“Trinidadians encourage Tobagonians to say no. Right now, there are two additional ones (Sandals) being built in Jamaica, two more in Barbados, one in St Lucia. Grenada is booming with one and Tobago is asking what happened on their way to Curacao,” he said.
He said the Sandals project “went up in ole talk.”
“But I am not telling you anything new. You would have been hearing about the diversification requirements and you would have forgotten the attempts that we have made because we did try,” he said.
He praised the “T&T model” of Point Lisas that was able to export fuel but questioned the failings of Labidco, which was supposed to be an industrial space modelled after the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.
Desperadoes members perform during the sod-turning ceremony at Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
Rowley said he was in Cabinet at the time Labidco was being built and recalled that $44 million was allocated for the project.
“But of course, everything you do here, there is someone to undo it with counterpoints,” he said.
“Everybody will tell you that what this country needs to do is diversify the economy, we have been hearing that for decades.”
Rowley said the time to start diversifying the economy was now and while past governments did try, it was met with failure “largely because of our behaviour and our downright foolishness.”
The PM said that the longstanding belief that the earnings from oil and gas would trickle down through government programmes to benefit generations may have worked well for the fore-parents, but there was a different reality in the days ahead.
“What we have to do now is stop talking about diversification and start diversifying our economy, because a day will come when the market for what we have lived on will not be there, or if it is there, it would not be as substantial and sustainable as it used to be,” he said.
He said T&T has gotten accustomed to “living off oil and gas” and forgot that there was a time when the country survived on sugar cane and agricultural products.
“We are in that mode now,” he said.