Budgeting the Creative Industries in T&T: A Lip Service Decline

“In addition, we will be working to develop the creative industries, through specific fiscal incentives…”
—Imbert, Colm. In “The Appropriation (Financial Year 2017) Bill 2016.” The 2nd Reading Sep 30, 2016, 11th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Colm Imbert, MP reading the 2017 budget statement in Parliament

A budget statement is a snapshot of the economy and the anticipated spending and earnings for the forthcoming year. It is not a detailed treatise where every single cent is accounted for. The annual exercise here in Trinidad and Tobago is a major news item occupying large blocks of broadcast air time beyond the budget speech with analysis giving “armchair” experts, business people, accountants and economists opportunities to explicate.

In recent years, Ministers of Finance—Larry Howai and now Colm Imbert—have given some detail on areas of the economy that the government is looking towards for economic activity or is seeking to explain why we as a nation may have “to eat little to live long.” Since the 2013 budget statement, the creative industries—a collective noun for the separate film, fashion and music industries—has become a topic for discussion and detail in the budget. The industry was targeted as one for diversification of the economy away from oil and gas. However, in contrast to other service areas, the creative industries have been getting decreasing “lip service” from the minister in the budget speech. The focus has waned from a high in the 2013 budget statement to the insult of a half of a sentence reference, 15 words, by Minister Imbert in his recent 2017 budget statement.

Source: Ministry of Finance

For 2017, we hear that the state-owned enterprise (SOE) for the industry, CreativeTT, is getting decreased funding for both capital and recurrent expenditure. Shyamal Chandradathsingh, board member of CreativeTT and Vice President, Investor Sourcing at InvesTT Limited told a MusicTT-organised stakeholder meeting, in response to a direct question on the budget allocations for CreativeTT, that recurrent expenditures were cut by TT$2.9 million to TT$7.2 million while the PSIP was reduced from TT$6 million to TT$4.25 million for all three sector units!

CreativeTT PSIP

The exercise of re-prioritisation and re-focussing of “public investment expenditures towards those areas and activities which will begin to reverse the conditions of economic stagnation experienced over the [term of the PP regime]” cited the creative industries in fiscal 2016 as one of those areas. A nearly 30% cut in investment spending on the sector for fiscal 2017 would suggest that the reduction in capital investment that the minister noted in his 2016 Budget Statement, 14.2%, “in the exercise of our commitment to fiscal prudence,” continues apace in the 2017 budget.

One would think that this government was not interested in the creative industries including the music industry, but one must be reminded of PM Keith Rowley’s admonition in 2014 in Parliament of then Finance minister Larry Howai’s boast in the 2015 budget statement that the PP was proposing to provide incentives to develop a number of “new sectors” including “…the creative, arts and entertainment sector…in particular in the film, fashion and music sub-sectors.” Rowley reminded the Parliament that Patrick Manning in his role as Minister of Finance in the 2005 budget statement spoke of “targeting a number of specific areas for further commercial expansion including…Music and entertainment [and] The Film Industry.”

The story is not a new one. Words are thrown around. Numbers are thrown around. Results vary. We, as a people and a nation ponder what could happen, perhaps unrealistically, if the treasury was full and money was flowing like water. The reality check of these numbers, however, still evades the reasoning of some. Political rhetoric supersedes practical reality and in the mix, chaos and sometimes, desperation reigns. Stakeholders are still speaking of issues that are outside the remit of MusicTT when engaging in consultations. That should be a thing of the past, but alas.

There is this confusing amalgamation of functions and phrases and overlapping remits and action by two ministries, Trade via its SOE, CreativeTT, and the now-renamed Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts. Jargon seems to suggest the Ministry of Culture is now in the cultural industries business. The PNM “2015 Election Manifesto, which is now official Government Policy,” directly slips between the jargon of cultural industries that “create value, generate income, produce goods and services and create employment,” and creative industries that have “many of the ingredients necessary for successful penetration of international markets, which the PNM Government will support.”

Source: Ministry of Planning PSIP documents

The 2016 PSIP document is even more blurred: “The cultural industries create value, generate income produce goods and services and create employment. Leveraging the creative sector to enhance the economy requires policies that are customised to the complexities of each sub-sector, contained within the industry…Local cultures will be supported and encouraged through the creation of an environment that promotes programmes that increase the commercial viability of creative enterprises.” The PSIP figures for CreativeTT are dwarfed by those for Arts and Culture in the previous five-year period. We should all be on the same page. The end results are the same, to commercialise the creative output to generate national wealth. (See the CreativeTT mandate!)

A recommended move for the newly minted Prime Minister in September 2015 when he was reallocating ministries would have been the introduction of a new Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries having a mandate to focus on creating the enabling environment for the commercialisation of the creativity and heritage of the nation and its citizens. It would have sent a signal that culture and creativity are not appendages to ministries or declining assets in the portfolio of items for economic activity. It would have been forward thinking. The growing idea of a creative economy has to mean that government duplication has to end, and internecine competition between ministries has to stop.

A word to the wise: Minister Imbert says that he met with “major stakeholder groups” when putting together the budget. The music sector is without an umbrella organisation that can speak convincingly towards the issues affecting and influencing the growth of the whole industry. The rapidly changing landscape for government engagement with various industries and interests begs for the urgent collaboration of various sector divisions—creative, technical, education and business—to speak with a single voice.

The government’s money is now much less than five years ago. The priorities have changed. It’s up to stakeholders to take the reigns of their sector while negotiating a steep learning curve. Until then, we are left with the enduring words of Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott, written in 1970: “The folk arts have become the symbol of a carefree, accommodating culture, an adjunct to tourism, since the state is impatient with anything which it cannot trade.”

Correction: (Oct 3, 2016) An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that the PSIP for CreativeTT for fiscal 2016 was $10 million. After the 2016 mid-year fiscal review in April 2016, budgetary allocations were revised downwards as all ministries and state agencies were asked to cut expenditure in light of the low oil price. The PSIP for CreativeTT was reduced to $6 million.

© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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