Why We Need to see the new Strategic Plan for Music: Part I

“…the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and by extension the Government, is fostering the creation of an enabling environment for business to develop and flourish, and also significantly improving the ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago. There is however, the need for the private sector to evolve if they wish to progress. For far too long we have given lip service to diversification and resolutely identified the Government as solely responsible for the success of expanding and creating new opportunities in the non-energy sector. This evening I wish to change the focus and put the questions to the business stakeholders, as we formulate solutions to support further economic diversification.

  • What is the private sector doing that is different and bold?
  • How has the private sector been innovative?”

— Sen. The Hon. Paula Gopee-Scoon, Minister of Trade and Industry. Feature Address at opening ceremony of Trade and Investment Convention 2018. 4 July 2018

The above is a recent policy statement from the Ministry of Trade and Industry with regards to the long-in-gestation exercise of economic diversification. Two important questions are asked, as the onus for diversification was always on the shoulders of the private sector within the realm of an enabling environment put in place by the government. For the music industry, these questions are ripe for picking as the answers to the respective questions could be “not much in a big way,” and “one attempt at major innovation in steelpan was met with a State lawsuit, so simply ‘not very’.”

This soul-searching has to be done to come to grips with the repeated attempts since the 1990s via official State policy initiatives implemented by the various SOEs to move the industry of music to an innovative and exportable one with GDP output above the single digit mark. But the hard and fast problem is that Strategic Plans, even with input from stakeholders, become stymied and ultimately redundant with change of government, poor implementation, and obdurate non-sharing of plans to make a case for State-led diversification. (The lament by the PM in 2017 of the SOEs “underperforming” does not inspire confidence in this business model, and we don’t even have to talk about Caroni (1975) Ltd, Iscott or Petrotrin refinery!)

The current Trade and Industry minister, Sen. The Hon. Paula Gopee-Scoon, in her budget debate presentation in the Senate on 25 October 2017 said the following:

Let me speak to the creative industry. Again, in September 2015 when we came into office we met CreativeTT without a plan, and this was more of a donation agency. We see much value in this and I think the Opposition has agreed with me—much value in this trillion-dollar industry. So we are focusing on capacity-building and on structuring these entities under CreativeTT – music, fashion and film — with very clear and well-formulated plans. Both music and fashion have already completed their strategic plans and the film plan will be completed by January 2018.

Under music: Elements of the strategic plan would be—in fact, elements of it would be exposed to the public during a national stakeholder engagement which is scheduled for October 2017 at the Queen’s Hall. This is on the 30th of October, 2017 at Queen’s Hall, where the public would be informed and particularly all of the stakeholders, all of the interested parties, about the key projects which are coming out of the strategic plan and which we will focus on in 2018, going forward. (Emphases are mine.)

Paloma Medina, Sian Evans and Martin Elbourne of Sound Diplomacy and Jeanelle Frontin, former GM of MusicTT at public consultation in 2016. Photo courtesy news.gov.tt

So, we know that the Plan for the music industry as opposed to the wider creative industries was done some time before October 2017 when the Minister spoke in the Senate. Members of the winning tenderer for the music plan development, Sound Diplomacy of the UK, came  to Trinidad and had numerous discussions with key stakeholders towards the Plan. Further, we are told that “elements” of the plan would be exposed, or as some commentators have noted, “cherry-picked”. And this is where the problem begins.

The selective editing and exposure of a Strategic Plan to all stakeholders suggests that some other key elements were either not feasible at this time, or that political considerations supersede practicality at this point of the economic recovery arc.

I was told by the former General Manager of MusicTT that,

“…due to the well known financial constraints on our country as a whole, it cannot be executed in full in this fiscal year…Thus, we have not yet launched the Strategic Action Plan…We are, however, aiming for Cabinet approval of the plans within this new fiscal so that we can move forward with a full execution. Regarding your query re: availability for public consumption, that is a decision that lies with the Ministry but I personally do not think it will be possible, at least not at this time (pre-launch of full execution).”

I don’t think that is a smart strategy for synergy between the State and the private sector businesses and creatives. The other Strategic Plan, Fashion, is public and widely available. Hence, my Freedom of Information request for the music Plan.

An earlier iteration of the SOE for music and entertainment, Trinidad & Tobago Entertainment Co Ltd (TT Ent), held post-draft consultations with key stakeholders to craft a Plan to guide the industry from 2006. Notably, the document, now public, advised that “this report may not be quoted or used for any purpose without the written consent of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.” Secrecy is constant in the business world, but the consultation that was held in 2006 speaks volumes in building confidence among stakeholders. More on that plan in Part II of this series.

Money clearly is a problem in 2018, as noted above by the former MusicTT GM. Opposition Senator Anita Haynes in her 2017/2018 budget debate chastised the government saying, “this Government has paid minor lip service again under the diversification section of the creative industries. I see that the development of the music industry was given $1 million…“. Note again, Fashion got $4.5 million and a public Strategic Plan.

That phrase, “lip service” repeats over and over by Senators. It was also on the tip of my tongue back in 2016, when Finance Minister Colm Imbert expended 15 words on the creative industries, and as we know, a PSIP budget of $4.5 million for all sub-companies under CreativeTT, film, fashion and music. These amounts of money don’t give the impression of a prioritising of a development of an enabling environment for private sector growth in the music industry. A couple bites here and there may be newsworthy, but don’t move the needle on industry development very far.

I was fortunate to meet the Minister in Renegades panyard before Carnival 2018 via an introduction from an important person in the literature industry. At the panyard, the Minister said she “will see what she could do.” Compare this with a subsequent meeting at the launch of the Live Music District where I reminded her who I was and what I wanted. Then, she smiled and wagged her finger. Even Ministry officials who initially said, “I will see what I can do,” became absent and clueless about the Plan. The unofficial scuttlebutt was that the Minister did not want it shared publicly as it could not cost-effectively be fully implemented, and that she likened it to a “trade secret.” The dirty little secret is that someone passed two copies of the draft Plan to me electronically to read.

A close read indicates that the cherry-picked four “elements” do not follow any the logical and studied approach as outlined in the Plan, and furthermore, there is a significant shortfall in the investment strategy outlined in the Plan in the budgetary allocation in the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 budgets. These copies of the draft Plans, being obtained unofficially, won’t serve as formal commentary sources. So I await the Ministry’s response to my FoI request.

Awkwardly, I must note that despite my informal verbal requests for sight of the complete music plan, I have been met with stonewall determination to upkeep the Minister’s seemingly guarded approach to a music strategy. I was told by two of the three Board members of MusicTT that the decision to publicise the Plan lay with the Minister who said no. The permanent secretaries did not even bother to respond to my emails. (I note my buddy Afra Raymond’s quest for information on the CL Financial bailout, and his revelation that the PS in Ministry of Finance says he won’t respond to correspondence unless it is on paper in an envelope with a stamp!) I embed my letters to the Ministry for consideration.

MusicTT’s former general manager’s notice that the development of a Music Taskforce was a primary recommendation of the Plan was noteworthy as it was absent in the exposed “elements” back in October 2017, but remains a major strategic initiative for private sector development in line with the Minister’s question at TIC. A synergy between State and private sector seems to be sidelined for four showcase elements that get greater news media coverage but have less impact on the long term development of the industry despite the Minister’s assurances.

paula gopee scoon
Senator, the Honourable Paula Gopee-Scoon, Minister of Trade and Industry, delivers the feature address at the roll out of the flagship projects that will build and strengthen the infrastructural capacity of Trinidad and Tobago’s music sector in October 2017. Photo: Ministry of Trade and Industry

The private sector’s willingness or ability to make innovative moves may not have been effectively captured by any data. A common narrative in a number of Strategic Plans is the lack of data to measure the sector, and this may include private sector initiatives towards innovation, global pursuit, and commercial success. Anecdotal information, while important, does not have the accuracy that would be needed to effectively implement any policy. Data driven policy coupled with an atmosphere of trust would make for better synergies. The Ministry’s actions don’t foster confidence in either.

It should also be noted that the Ministry’s own Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 states that, “In addition, as communication is deemed to be one of the critical issues to be addressed by the management and staff of the MTI in order to improve performance, emphasis is being placed on improving communications with both internal and external stakeholders…Another significant strategy is the development and implementation of research systems to gather and analyse data on the Non-Energy sector. The tracking and assessment of the business environment and the impact of the various programmes implemented within the Non-Energy sector are critical to ensuring a more data-driven policy making environment and a repository of trade and business intelligence.” The message is already known.

In the next part, I will outline how the pattern of suppression of information and wilful competition with the sector has made for very incremental movements within the sector, and its impact on the Minister’s query on private sector activity, innovation and movement.

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

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