Creative Industries in T&T Budget 2021, part 2: What we got, what we wanted, what next?

With 2021 around the corner, and the new tax incentives for the creative industries to come into effect on January 1, we can revisit the budget statement and debates to see what we got, where we need to be, and how to get there. You can read the pre-budget expectations and wish list here.

The Words

The Appropriation (Financial Year 2021) Bill, 2020, commonly known as the Budget was assented to by the President on 28 October 2020. The Budget is a weeks-long process of speeches, debates, and committee deliberations by parliamentarians to “provide for the service of Trinidad and Tobago for the financial year ending on the 30th day of September, 2021.

$41,394,343,424 was authorized for expenditure to meet the service demands of the country by the State up to 30 September 2021. Of course, the government can come back at any time and ask for more, but for now, this is all there is to spend.

Creative industries are spread over a few ministries which function as enabling environment facilitators to drive and expand the economic impact of the cluster to the country. Music, Film, Fashion, Dance & Theatre including visual and performing arts, Festivals including Carnival, Heritage, Literature & Publishing, and Broadcasting are recognised by the government as the subsectors of the industry.

It has become clearer as time progresses that the government’s vision for the creative industries has morphed towards a “creative and cultural” industry. Creative industries expenditure and investment is in the infrastructure section of the budget, while Arts and Culture is in the Social sector policies of the budget and PSIP.

In his Budget Statement 2016, delivered on Oct 5, 2015, Minister of Finanace Colm Imbert, MP said, under the social sector policies sub-head ARTS AND CULTURE:

Madam Speaker, we will leverage our rich cultural, historical, religious and natural heritage for developing tourism with associated job creation activity. We will encourage all local cultures. We will create a national local enterprise with the support of the entire country which will identify the benefits: value creation, income and employment generation, goods and services production, innovation and creativity. Artistes, media operators, film-makers and other participants in the creative industries will access first-class facilities to showcase their talent with world-class standards. Arts, fashion design, culture and tourism will become major drivers of productivity and growth in our country.

Colm Imbert, MP. Oct 5, 2015. “Restoring Confidence and Rebuilding Trust: Let’s Do This Together.” in Appropriation Bill (Financial Year 2016), 2015. Port of Spain: 15th Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago

In 2020, it’s all one phrase: “creative and cultural industries.” The Finance minister’s word count still factors low on the totem pole, suggesting low priority at budget time despite the policy statement that says otherwise. Public investment still hovers at the lower regions of the budget. (I can cheekily say that the minister and by extension, the Ministry of Trade and Industry got the message I delivered on declining lip service.)

The Trade, Industry and Enterprise Development minister, Sen. Paula Gopee-Scoon in the lower house on 13 October (see above) said in as many words nothing much more as she detailed programmes that have gone before: Live Music District will now be moving online. COTT’s initiative to manage local International Standard Recording Codes (ISRC) was given a hail out too. In the senate, the minister, having already spoken about the creative industries in the lower house, reminded senators of the television show The Amazing Race filmed here and the size of its audience!

What’s instructive, however, is what wasn’t said. Senator Gopee-Scoon’s Speaking Notes for the debate reveal pages of information on the creative industries, little of which made it on the record in Hansard, including:

  • 2019 figures estimate the creative industries sector’s contribution to be $427.6TTD Million or 0.30% of GDP (Est.)
  • according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Sector has expanded over the past three years.
  • during Fiscal 2017-2020, the total foreign exchange generated by the [film] sector was US$3,290,184 (TT$22,275,549) [as measured as spend by international production companies in the country.]
  • graduates of the Ultra Bespoke Tailoring Programme, amassed sales of TT$773,000 (2018-2019) followed by sales amounting to TT$850,625 (2019-2020).
  • [A number of MusicTT-lead initiavives] are expected to create over 240 employment opportunities in the Music Sector in Fiscal 2021.

Notably, no revenue generation statistics were shown for music!

The new minister of Tourism, Culture and The Arts, Senator Randall Mitchell said the following (see above)

…A $25 million fund was set up and allocated to provide relief to artistes in the culture and arts sectors; 1,124 cultural relief grants in the amount of $5,000 per grant, per person, were distributed to artistes for a total of $4,080,000 so far.

Sen Randall Mitchell. 26 October 2020. in Senate debate on Appropriations Bill 2021

The minister spoke for 40 minutes in the senate almost exclusively on tourism. He tossed around the phrase “culture and the arts” a few times to possibly reinforce his new ministerial role, and to lay claim that, “[a]t the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and the marketing agencies, we will continue to look within the tourism ecosystem to maximize visitor spend where we can, and the merger between tourism, culture and the arts provides us with excellent opportunities for doing just that.”

Recently, it was reported that in 2018, TT$318 million were spent by visitors for Carnival with 33,873 visitors. That is more than the total visitor arrivals to Tobago for the whole year. Carnival is tourism too! As Derek Walcott wrote back in 1970, “the folk arts have become a symbol of a carefree, accommodating culture, an adjunct to tourism, since the State is impatient with anything it cannot trade.”

All in all, there is less money to spend. The priorities on spending during the pandemic, as guided by the IMF, etc., are:

  1. protecting lives and health services,
  2. protecting livelihoods via social support and humanitarian programmes, financial support for companies and individuals to keep people in jobs, and measures to maintain the flow of credit to the business sector, and
  3. preparing for recovery.

Public sector investment in massive projects are off the table for now. It’s simple things like eating a food now that are the focus of the Government. For instance, the government launched the Cultural Relief Grant for, among others, entertainers who lost jobs due to the pandemic this year. As reported by the Finance minister in his Budget Statement, up to budget day after 3 months and an election, “343 of our cultural artistes have received grants of $5,000 each”. (p.35.) With $25 million set aside for this Grant, 5,000 people could potentially be recipients.

[Update: A press release for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts dated 23 December 2020, stated that, “To date 2,152 persons received the Cultural Relief Grant, while an additional 520 persons have been approved and are awaiting their grant cheques. This will increase the total disbursement to date to over $13M. Applications have been received from an additional 550 artistes and creatives and are currently being processed.” ]

What the government gave?

In the last 3 years, we have seen fiscal incentives for the creative industries move from $3 million to $6 million to now, $12 million allowance for private sector investors. This doubling suggests either no-to-low uptake of this tax incentive or a push from the private sector for better returns before any investment is made. In 2013, the TT Chamber’s magazine, Contact published:

However, despite the availability of these tax and non-tax incentives, the expected growth of the CS/I [Creative Sector and Industries] has not materialized. According to the Ministry of Finance there has been an under-utilisation of the current tax breaks and despite this, artistes continue to clamour for infrastructural, institutional and financial support. (My emphasis.)

Walter Rochester, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Senior Tax Manager. “Are further Tax Incentives the missing ingredient to grow the Creative Sector and Creative Industries in Trinidad and Tobago?” Contact Magazine. Vol 13. No. 3 2013. p. 14.

In 2020, PwC published in its response to the Budget statement the following:

Whilst understanding the aim of increasing the deduction for this expenditure is to support the artistes; sportsmen and fashion industry professionals who may be struggling more due to the pandemic – this allowance was increased from TT$3m to TT$6m in the 2020 budget. At that time, we were of the view that careful evaluation was needed to assess the efficacy of this allowance in encouraging private sector companies to sponsor the targeted creative industries given that many of these companies practice overall conservatism towards expenditure. As a result, an increased allowance at this time may not bear fruit, but in the absence of any historical data to garner insights into the effectiveness of the previous measure, it is difficult to speak to this. (My emphasis.)

PwC. “Recover and Reset – 2020 and beyond: Budget Memorandum.” 5 October. p. 39.

Seven years of incentive baiting and State Owned Enterprise implementation, and we are still at the square one. CreativeTT sees a continuing trend of “financial challenges,” “manpower rationalisation,” and lower development spend, save and except for a money dump in fashion to facilitate the development of bespoke tailoring and value chain investment programme development in 2018.

In 2020, we see the effects of COVID-19 on public investment in music: a halving of the estimate for development expenditure suggests that the Live Music District project was affected and that the focus for music was in the live space. Strategic areas for development in 2019 that were identified in that year’s PSIP document for MusicTT — Business and Value Chain Development, and International Promotion and Export Activities — remain unfulfilled.

CreativeTT began in 2013. Prior to that, separate allocations for TTEnt, TT film Co, and a line item development spend for fashion industry.

Of note, in the documents of Recurrent Expenditure Estimates was the revelation that the NCC received no current transfers for this fiscal year. That signals what the PM had said before, “Carnival 2021 is not on,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of note is the fact that in the last decade, $1.78 billion in subventions were given. Cycles of debt repayments and stated management inefficiencies could not prolong the level of output. Carnival may bring tens of thousands of visitors here with visitor expenditure in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the health risks were too high to justify that public investment. There are rumblings that Carnival stakeholder bodies will make the case for subventions to protect heritage and culture. See below for a historical perspective of government-funded Carnival subventions.

Source: Ministry of Finance

What are we to do now?

At this juncture, what is the creative industry to do knowing that the government is continuing with the failed exercise of building an expanding creative industry using the state-owned enterprise model, and critically unable to do more with the burden of COVID-19 relief being a priority? The State has played its hand, it is now the role of the creative and business stakeholder to move to the front of the line.

The Medium-Term Policy Framework 2011-2014 gives us advice on the respective roles of the public and private sector.

The Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago must position itself, through partnerships with key stakeholders, as a key facilitator for achieving an innovation-driven economy that is based on greater inclusiveness and equity…Over the medium-term, it is expected that the private sector will play a greater role than in the past in the area of investment in support of economic transformation.

Ministry of Planning and the Economy. October 2011. Medium-Term Policy Framework 2011-2014.

I have already written on what I believe the roles and functions should be for the public and private sector groups, but the critical goals should be public service reform, and economic formalisation and collaboration, respectively. The government policy movement toward a broader e-government and e-commerce is appealing for its easy adaptation by the private sector, already ahead on that learning curve.

Public service reform is necessary, but has in the past been a Sisyphean task. Attitudes and productivity among the public service have not matched private sector growth. Even the Prime Minister has noted this low productivity and inefficiency in speeches over the last year and before.

PM Dr. Keith Rowley on the public service

The previously addressed reformation of the public service, and the redefinition and urgent need for enabling environment updates, which are the State’s roles have to be matched by action in collective formation towards effective advocacy and general education to reverse long held perceptions of the creative industry, its impact, and how best to synergize parallel industries and economic enablers.

Just after the budget statement, social commentator, Rhoda Bharath posited a thesis in a Facebook post on 13 October 2020, on the creative community which has resonance:

Because of poor infrastructure and political patronage creatives here have become reliant on the state for largesse and favors. And because the state here is ridiculously weak about making people be accountable for the monies they receive we have a long history of people getting money from the state and never really having to account for, far less establish themselves as successful entrepreneurs in order to receive more funding.

Rhoda Bharath’s Facebook post. 13 October 2020. Click here to read.

More recently, the Trinidad Express published an article, “$10 million for suffering local artistes, before Christmas” reporting on the press release of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts which gave an update on the grant distribution for cultural workers. The Facebook post of that story generated 300 odd comments, many chastising artists, for example:

Wtf. There are other things they can do to survive the pandemic. These artistes should have money put away for times like this because they charge way too much

Commentator responding to Trinidad Express Facebook post
Trinidad Express Facebook post on “$10 million for suffering local artistes, before Christmas”

Attitudes towards the industry and its stakeholders must change from being perceived as hobbyists or opportunists towards being business persons, from music as background filler to music as an IP asset with multiple revenue streams. Rhoda Bharath’s point about accountability is sound. Accountability reporting and requirements for grant receipt have been rigid, but in the grand scheme of things, and with the idea of grants being a part of the social and humanitarian support programme of the government in these times, transparency and accountability are to be the new norms.

The halcyon days of free money in the tens of millions to run the cultural groups are over. Non-profit organisations that preserve the heritage element of the creative industries were given over $210 million in the last decade.

Grants for non-profit cultural institutions and organisations. Source: Ministry of Finance
YearGrants disbursed TT$
Grants for non-profit cultural institutions and organisations. Source: Ministry of Finance

Money does not grow on a tree. The vernacular of “creativity is work” should become the norm. The business of the creative will have winners and losers. Some musicians, for instance, will have hits and many will not make a cent in royalties or performance fees. The impact of business decisions made prior to launching initiatives will reflect on the bottom line. The government is not responsible for bad business decisions. It is, however, responsible for the environment in which business occurs here.

The Artist Registry is a database  of nationals of Trinidad and Tobago who operate within the creative sector. This initiative was launched in February 2011 to facilitate the development of the creative sector through the recognition and certification of the bona fide of individuals, organisations and creative productions. Funding for this initiative became a new current transfer expenditure item in 2017. We see a declining spend over these years.

YearActual Spend TT$
Expenditure on Artists Registry. Source: Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure. Min of Finance

The marshalling of a cohort of creative entrepreneurs is a step in the right direction. Leadership of this collective may rise out of the bowels of this group, but with the history of creative formation failure and mendicant action by current groups representing creatives, it is a tall order.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s famous slogans was there is no such thing as society, that we are all just individuals. Once you take that message into your cells, what happens is you become purely competitive. It’s every man and woman for him or herself, and that also has a relationship to consuming. If I’m going to be selfish, then I’m going to consume more and I’m going to be first in line for the next iPhone. It feeds the consumer machine. We can’t get organized if we’re just individuals because they know that if we organize, we can defeat the power structure… Of course, we have not been imbued with any power. We’ve been imbued with the illusion of power.

Jeremiah Moss. In “The death of small businesses in big cities, explained.” by Rebecca Jennings. Vox. Nov 21, 2018,

Eric Williams said a similar thing:

The pronounced materialism and disastrous individualism have spread to all parts of the fabric of the society… The political parties are riddled with individualism. The trade unions are riddled with individualism. The professions are riddled with individualism. Each seeks aggrandisement at the expense of his neighbour, giving rise to attitudes that threaten equality of opportunity.

Eric Williams. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. (Port of Spain: P.N.M. Publishing Co. Ltd., 1962), 283.

Collective formation for sector development and advocacy has to overcome this individualism. Power comes in numbers, it is said. Power, I say, comes from understanding one’s value and negotiating favourably to the ultimate benefit of many. In the past, we have marched for benefits. At the turn of the 21st century, the local Entertainment Coalition endorsed by the Recording Industry Artists of T&T were marching for 50% local content quotas. Feet on the ground got us only so far. In 2020, we are still reading that, “Incentives will also be provided for increasing the percentage of local music played on local music stations.” (pp. 58-59.) Two decades have passed.

The former president of the local collective management organisation, COTT, with a membership in the thousands and a catalog in multiple of thousands of works, threw out as a discussion starter, the idea of 20% of broadcast content quota being local, assumed to incorporate copyrights, neighbouring rights, and provenance.

What would be the IP value of the local music industry if its value is not initialised by public performance on broadcast media? The maxim “shoot for the stars and land on the moon” has no resonance if 20% is all one can see. We see reports from COTT that in 1997, noting 21% local content was played dropping to 15% in 1999. Music label owner Jean-Michel Gibert is quoted in Billboard magazine in April 2004 saying that “local music accounted for 5% of all music played on T&T radio stations in 2003.” Not much has changed since the turn of the century if 20% is still being bandied about as a negotiation starter. Initiatives for industry growth must be tied to a definition of local content that is valued highly. Negotiation beyond “incentives” to increase local broadcast royalty collection must be borne by a collective voice, and must be “clear as day in the arguments for and against LOCAL content” as posited by Arnold.

Collective formation that can advocate effectively and serve a membership must revolve around sound principles, a need, and leadership that gets the job done. There is a dearth of effective leadership in the creative class, although there are examples of fine creative entrepreneurship arising in the Carnival and fete industry. For a broader inclusion of the wider industry that can lobby mano a mano with the government, public sector and the important development finance sector, it may not hurt to look outside of the creative class. Let’s talk money.

The idea of the easy monetisation of the music, film, and fashion sectors posited by the chairman of MusicTT has not been matched by the value of public investment nor the attributed results showing growth beyond upstream economic activities. The conflation of statistics from various ministries to draw positive results for political statements — Carnival, Carifesta, and CreativeTT exist in separate ministries — continues to deny the reality of relative low output value, varied public investment, minimal tax contribution, and challenges to the current account. The figures don’t lie.

The 2021 Budget has outlined how we have to navigate the difficult waters in a COVID-19 world, and given us the tools, incentives and policies to handle that journey. Carnival and music will take a major hit in 2021 — estimated revenue and employment generation, foreign exchange earnings and visitor arrival and visitor expenditure. The pivot towards a new and permanent virtual global audience is real and urgent. Adding value is the challenge. Opportunities for greater input from stakeholders towards data collection, alternative funding sourcing, market diversification, and plain and simple creating more and better have to be the “pivots” for 2021.

The Budget may be amended mid-year, but the creative industries, all of it from music to broadcasting, films to fashion, and everything in between, can not wait on the vagaries of a disease or potential vaccine to assuage or give impetus to the idea of making new paths to create and profit. Remember the saying, “Together we aspire, Together we achieve.” I add, together we collaborate, together we profit. Happy New Year.

©2020, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “Creative Industries in T&T Budget 2021, part 2: What we got, what we wanted, what next?”

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