Can the Budget Statement predict success or failure? The LMD case.

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Finance Minster, Colm Imbert delivering Budget 2019

Colm Imbert, while delivering the 2019 Budget, used the phrase “our commitment…has not been as successful as we had envisaged,” to describe an unfulfilled promise from a previous budget. Politicians are trained never to admit failure, but sometimes use cute euphemisms like “the continuing efforts…fell short of requirements,” which he did use yesterday too. But Imbert also had to admit to “managerial failures” leading to the shutting down of the Petrotrin oil refinery, effectively shuttering that industry in Trinidad.

Coupled with the failure to sustain a refinery industry, the State also had its hands dirtied with the failure to sustain a sugar industry in the early 21st century via the shutting down of Caroni (1975) Ltd. The ability to strategically navigate the global waters within those industries was too much to handle for the folks chosen by the government to run these enterprises. The initial impulse to save jobs was met with the harsh reality that we were in water way above our heads.

The government’s decision to diversify the economy into various industries, including the creative industries, follows a path of hope and sometimes hyperbolic promise, with returns on investment that are hard to decipher or impossible to see. Jobs and foreign exchange generation have been the factors for the State getting into the business of whatever is the hot thing, and our ability to get there in one piece has been middling. The entertainment industry has been on the books for a diversification industry for decades, with the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) model being the vehicle of implementation. We all know the evolving acronyms, TIDCO, EIDECO (technically an umbrella organization affiliated with TIDCO aimed at developing the entertainment sector: “It failed fabulously,” according to former general manager Suzanne Burke), TT Ent, CreativeTT.

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Creative and entertainment industry SOEs

Yesterday, Imbert said 122 words on the creative industries — yeah, I am the man who counts words on lip service on the creative industries — coming down from his landmark 259 words the year before (76 on music, 112 on film, and 52 on fashion, with some filler):

“We have been facilitating the development of a creative industry sector. During the period March – June 2018, the Live Music District Programme which provides a platform for live music performances became alive. Financial opportunities for those 160 artistes who were selected for the Artiste Portfolio Development Programme were presented at 31 venues which showcased 340 performances. We envisage that with this experience as a revenue-generating model, these artistes will now have the opportunity to perform before larger audiences and undertake appropriate tours. In light of its success, this pilot programme in Port of Spain will now be extended throughout Trinidad and Tobago with live music performances year-round providing in the process collaboration among hotels and venues, in particular for tourism programmes.”
— Colm Imbert, Budget Statement 2019, on the Creative Industries.

The Live Music District (LMD) was the topic this year, with the pilot phase of March-June 2018 being upgraded to a planned full national roll out, all being justified by the “success” of a portion of artists out of 160 having performed 340 times at 31 venues. Arguments have already begun online about the definition of “success.” Please note that John Arnold, the chairman of MusicTT promised “approximately 700 performances” when the LMD was launched!

Entertainment and lifestyle journalist, Laura Dowrich-Phillips of LoopTT and I have a podcast, Music Matters: The Caribbean Edition, with an episode on the live music industry in the islands, where we spoke of our conversations with artists and our observations of this “success,” or failure according to Laura, of the LMD.

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Calvin Bijou, CreativeTT chairman

Calvin Bijou, chairman of the board of Trinidad & Tobago Creative Industries Company Limited (CreativeTT), admitted to some hiccups and “lessons to be learned” in the implementation of the initiatives from the Strategic Plan for the Music Industry, including LMD, at a recent Trinidad & Tobago Music Company Limited (MusicTT) event.

Just because it happened is not a standard for success, but whether it delivered towards its goals. Remember, Trade minister Senator, the Honorable Paula Gopee-Scoon said that the LMD when fully implemented would, “increase tourism, revenue, job opportunities. And we see all of these musicians across all of the different music genres having opportunities to commercialize their talent, bring it up to a standard where they can then export their music.” The Minister also touted many fabulous goals both short term and long term when the LMD was launched in March, see below:

Early days yet, but with limited increases in the number of live music venues in the Port of Spain region to effectively support the LMD as a professional music space, and the continuing murmurs among artists about shortfalls in infrastructure and business engagement, I am not sure if all stakeholders are on board as yet or whether the national roll-out is justified in the interim. Fix it first!

Strategic areas for development in 2019 are identified in the PSIP document:

  • Business and Value Chain Development, and
  • International Promotion and Export Activities.

The continual cherry-picking of initiatives of the Strategic Plan for the Music Industry — for some reason, still being referred to as a “draft” despite its confirmation of completion by Gopee-Scoon last year in the budget debate (p. 47) — is ongoing with the hopeful outcomes being touted as a boon to the economy down the road, if all goes well.

The examples of the “fabulous” failures of Caroni (1975) Ltd. and Petrotrin (as a whole, I am not confident that the Exploration & Production division is any better than the Refinery & Marketing division was before its shutdown) should give caution to any words being said about “success” in any industry or industrial exercise being handled in the silo of a State-Owned Enterprise.

The touted Music Taskforce with leadership from stakeholders and the State all speaking with a united voice — despite the earlier example of failure with EIDECO — in a modern time and with the hindsight of those fiascoes, should be a goal more than some political short win of some singers singing in bars, clubs, and restaurants to a few people for petty cash from the State kitty.

© 2018, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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