I recently saw a movie at Movie Towne (Skyfall; it good!) and before the main feature, a short movie/promo was shown with Derek Chin presenting his “Streets of the World” project to all assembled. He was acting as if it was a done deal. He spoke to all watching and listening there like this was the fillip for the creative and entertainment industries. He promised a cinema for exclusive display of local film, and designs of streets by Carnival artists such as the late Wayne Berkley, Brian MacFarlane and Rosalind Gabriel along with a Carnival museum. There would be work for musicians, dancers, actors, and other creative types. In one fell swoop, all the ills of the industry would be cured. His short movie message was not muted. The captive audiences were the new messengers of a vision of fun in the sun with profits for all.
This Dubai duplicate on the Foreshore would quiet the din of protest against his presence on the Board of the planned TT Creative Industries Company (TTCIC) and its operation thereafter. To the unaware politician or the uninitiated onlooker, Chin represents the entrepreneur necessary for an industry to exist, and more like him would suffice as a beginning of that industry. The suitability of this man as chairman of TTCIC would be proven by his risk taking gamble of $2B for the benefit of TT creative types. [The question of the acquisition of the land on the waterfront valued at over $1B has been raised by the JCC, and they would show how the bids for the land would not redound to the benefit of taxpayers. That chicanery in the guise of investment, while par for the course in TT investment history, would be dealt with elsewhere.]
The cogent argument against the TTCIC thus could not be the personnel at the head table taking directions from the line minister, but the precedent of failure already meted out by this business model to drive the creative industry towards profit and denting the GDP percentage. The special purpose company approach has not generally yielded positive results outside of the energy sector. TIDCO in the 1990s was to be the catalyst for growth of the non-oil sector by collating IDC, TDA and EDC (Export Development Company) into a super company. TIDCO’s mandate, among other things, was to ensure that the industry is well positioned to compete effectively in the global arena by promoting the holistic and sustainable development of the entertainment sector. The purpose was nebulous, the focus was unclear.
TIDCO’s history vis-à-vis the arts has a major black spot in the name of World Beat Festival which racked up losses of close to $10M for a failed annual event. (For more, see here.) The other dubious investments in Trinidad and Tobago Trade Facilitation Company Limited (trade), Trinidad and Tobago Pageant Company Limited (an adjunct to tourism and fashion), and Vanguard Hotel Limited (tourism) never yielded profit. Piarco Airport Development Project was another TIDCO project. Note that the infamous Ishwar Galbaransingh was the chairman of TIDCO. Hello Section 34!
A more current example would be the TT Entertainment Company (TTEnt) that was to serve as a facilitator of the development of a globally competitive entertainment industry. That has not happened. By comparison, the TT Film Company, with its more focused objective of developing “the national film industry through the provision of service and support,” has been championed by its stakeholders as a necessary organ for the sector. The cries of “don’t dump the film company” are loud for this under-funded special purpose company. The paucity of effective management available to the government for these state enterprises becomes clear. Additionally, super-entrepreneurs (Duprey, Lok Jack) have served at board level of special purpose companies (BWIA/CAL) only to see losses associated with their names. What’s in Derek Chin’s future? Are the “shine of his Japan and the sparkle of his China” better than the rest?
The rules of the running of this company, still secret, along with such important legislation such as the procurement legislation, still outstanding, allows for the feared run on the treasury by over-ambitious board directions trying to fast-track policy mandates and platform election promises. In the music sector, we have already seen the investment of $5M by the Ministry of Planning into Machel Montano’s still-to-be-released Independence CD project with information showing that this “winning horse” got the deal of the century: an advance with the ability to share in gross sales of an over-priced product for this market that has acclimatised itself to $10 DVDs and CDs from bootleggers, and free torrent downloads. A portion of sales is said “to establish an investment fund for the development of the creative industry.” The funding of the creative industry is based on this flawed business model. The intent of this industry being a growth pole seems diminished now.
Allied with this mindset locally are the stated opinions of both the Director of Culture and the Minister of Communications to bypass legislation necessary for effecting local content increases in broadcast in favour of suasion and incentives. Peter Campbell writing in the TT Chamber’s Contact magazine in his 2010 article, “Tax Incentives for Cultural Industries.”, said the following then:
Although an attractive taxation incentive package exists for corporations wishing to invest in the arts and culture, the interest it has generated is low. “There still is generally little interest from the private sector. There is indeed an adequate framework of incentives, but the perceived before-tax financial returns of embarking upon business ventures which actively and directly promote arts and culture does not seem to pique a lot of interest,” says Wade George, Regional Service Line Leader, Tax Services, Ernst & Young. “…the tax incentives for the industry are there, but to find the people with the right vision to seek out the market to make such investments viable is another issue. The question, therefore, is why isn’t the private sector’s involvement as it ought to be and how you inspire people who have the ability to export culture?”
—Campbell, Peter. “Tax Incentives for Cultural Industries.” Contact 10.1. (2010): 47. Print.
Why after all this time, the message has not gotten through is worrisome in the least, and disrespectful when considering that we elected legislators who seem comfortable relegating legislation to the back-burner for the convenience of satisfying an unmeasured status quo of ineffective governance.
Creative industry stakeholders are flexing their muscles. The tipping point has to be when the collective voice of the dreamer is matched by the collective voice of the cultural entrepreneur both speaking cogently to the policy makers. The still incubating National Cultural Policy identifies within it the separate functions of heritage curation, talent incubation, and economic empowerment. That policy should be at the forefront of any charge to grow the pole of the creative. The industry must be empowered by a mix of enforceable new legislation, enforcement of current regulations, mutually beneficial negotiation of deals, collaborative enterprise between public-private. Nihilistic behaviour by policy-makers has no place here.
It is pleasing that the print media has caught up in the reporting of the objections by stakeholders in the industry to the formation of the super company. Film-makers have come to the front of this march offering reasons such as fear of funding cut-offs, low budget to run the planned new enterprise, and ignorance of who will be running this ship. To date, however, there is no official spokesperson advocating for the company. Actions behind the scenes are happening with the agglomeration of a Board, the winding up of TTEnt, and the silence of the cabal to the protests of stakeholders. The rush is on.
Derek Walcott wrote in 1970 in his essay, “What the Twilight Says”: “…the state is impatient with anything which it cannot trade.” More than 40 years later, the haste to establish the phenomenon of a state catalysed creative industry to add to the national GDP appears like a throwback to a time when political destinies were tied to results dictated not by its citizens, but by some agency of money lenders. The act of doing the same thing and expecting a different result is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. The inevitability of another fiasco looms.
© 2012, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.