|Pan in danger |
Sunday, January 8 2017
Senior reporter COREY CONNELLY looks at the financial troubles plaguing Pan Trinbago ahead of this year’s Panorama competitions.
When he penned “Pan In Danger” back in 1985, late calypsonian Merchant (Dennis Williams Franklyn) bemoaned Trinidad and Tobago’s difficulties in elevating the profile of the steelpan, the only new musical instrument created in the 21st century.
Merchant, though, perhaps never envisaged that the pan, which remains the country’s foremost musical invention, would actually reach the point of being under threat, decades after its inception.
The ongoing, bitter standoff between Pan Trinbago, the world’s governing body for the instrument and members of the fraternity over the alleged non-payment of monies owed to players for the 2016 Panorama competition, cast a dismal light on the operations of the organisation, so much so that pan men are threatening to stay away from this year’s competition.
The disgruntled panmen, who have formed themselves into a group referred to as United Players Movement, also are calling for the head of Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz and his executive, whom they claimed, have thrown the organisation into disrepute and done little to advance the cause of the steelpan and members of the fraternity.
Diaz, though, remains warded at the St Clair Medical Centre after suffering a heart attack late Thursday in the throes of the controversy. Richard Forteau has since been appointed to act as Pan Trinbago president.
In addition, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan-Gadsby- Dolly, responding to recent reports of financial impropriety within Pan Trinbago, has said the organisation will be relieved of some of its responsibilities for this year’s Carnival.
For example, she said the National Carnival Commission will now collect gate receipts from ticket sales at Panorama - an activity that has always been carried out by Pan Trinbago.
For Beverly Ramsey-Moore, manager of the Tobago-based Petrotrin Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra, the panmen’s call for the Diaz-led Pan Trinbago to step down from office is just.
Since becoming a member of Pan Trinbago’s executive, back in 2010, Ramsey-Moore said she quickly realised that things seemed amiss in the organisation.
“I recognised from the first few months that we were in serious problems,” she told Sunday Newsday in a no-holds-barred interview.
Ramsey-Moore said she observed that Pan Trinbago did not, in her opinion, have a structure and that it gave “absolute power” to the president.
“And because of how it was worded, any president who was a megalomaniac would have abused the authority,” she said.
Ramsey-Moore, who had served as assistant secretary, said she and few other executive members at the time, also began questioning “certain practices” in the organisation.
“You cannot be spending millions of dollars and you have no financial rules,” she claimed, referring to the operations of Pan Trinbago at that time.
“The constitution called for committees to be set up and if you are interested in good governance and you really want to be a president with an executive known for good governance, clearly you would ensure that your finance committee is set up.” Ramsey-Moore, who had contested Pan Trinbago’s leadership in October 2015, said she and the other executive were adamant that the organisation was headed down a destructive path.
She said they questioned Diaz’ spending patterns “because as president you must have a limit.” “And then if you want to spend beyond a certain amount, you have to come back to the executive.
So, clearly, there was a oneman dictatorship,” she said.
Ramsey-Moore said they also questioned, then, the fact that Pan Trinbago’s board, comprising elected members, “should not have been serving as office managers and CEO because it is a case of himself to himself.” She added: “So, you have president as CEO, secretary as office manager. What the president was doing was that the majority on the executive, he surrounded himself with them and they were paid officers.
They were working full-time for their boss. I knew early o’clock that this thing would have crashed.” Ramsey-Moore said she wrote Diaz, suggesting that Pan Trinbago should have at least had quarterly reports about the organisation’s finances.
“The next thing I knew was that one of the members was thrown out of the executive...Madness and chaos was going on and I said this Tobago girl, all I have is my good name. I gone,” she said.
Said to be in the red by over $30 million, Pan Trinbago was established by an Act of Parliament in 1986, with extensive powers to “act locally and internationally in all manners to further the development of the steelpan and protect the interest and welfare of the members of steelbands.” Among other aims, the organisation’s website lists the advancement and protection of the welfare of steelband members as one of its objectives.
The powers given to the organisation in the Act includes the acceptance of subventions and donations as well as the responsibility to manage and invest all monies belonging to Pan Trinbago.
But the organisation, which has a membership of just over 200 bands, has long been dogged by controversy and allegations of corruption.
This reached a head recently when outgoing vice-president Bryon Serrette alleged that corrupt practices were taking place within the organisation.
Serette, who had served on the executive since 2009, alleged there was a laundry list of questionable financial transactions and the organisation was consumed by mounting debt to the tune of millions of dollars.
Serette had specifically questioned the alleged purchase of two cars, a BMW X5 and an Audi Q7, by Pan Trinbago’s president.
The organisation had described Serrette’s allegations as erroneous.
For Ramsey-Moore’s part, Pan Trinbago’s controversial arrangement with Nigeria several years ago, to expand the profile of the pan throughout the diaspora was a major sore point for her.
“That was where me and them break,” she said.
“They went there on a fact-finding mission. ‘Ent they supposed to come back to the executive and report on what they find. Instead when they came back, the company (Africa Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan Development Company) was already set up.” Ramsey-Moore claimed thousands of dollars was spent on establishing the company and accomodation and food for the Nigerian nationals “and when people asking questions, you (Diaz) behaving like a wajang in the executive.
“I pack up my traps and I left.
I warned them but they did not believe me,” she said.
“But the most painful thing is that he was able, under his dictatorship rule to convince panmen and women that we of the new visionaries, that we were bringing the organisation into disrepute and when they had an officer move a motion to have us being named as persona non grata.” The ATTSDC, a limited liability company, was set up with a vision to promote and expand the steelpan artform across the African continent with Pan Trinbago. The organisation had contributed 35 percent shares toward technical support while Nigerian businessman Chief Bowie S Bowei was a 45 percent shareholder in the venture Bowei had complained that Daniel Lambert of FCL Communications Ltd never met his financial obligation as a 20 percent shareholder and as such, he (Bowei) had been responsible for all expenses to facilitate a loan and other administrative expenses of the company.
Bowei subsequently pulled out of the venture.
Ramsey-Moore said when she had asked Diaz about the status of the initiative, he replied that it had been “eradicated.” “So, it is just a case of panman money going down the drain,” she said. Ramsey-Moore said the non-completion of Pan Trinbago’s headquarters in Tacarigua, a discoloured shell of a structure surrounded by overgrown bushes, also had scarred the steel pan fraternity.
She told Sunday Newsday: “The executive has made no effort to find a permanent home for the national instrument and that is a shame. I am really disappointed.” Saying that pan was a business, Ramsey-Moore said a beautiful home, befitting the dignity of the panman should have been constructed.
“Pan is a business and we can’t leave everything for the Government to do,” she said, adding that panyards were sacred spaces.
She said although the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) had constructed a panyard for her own band, Katzenjammers, the outfit’s leadership team was able, outside of that support, to “make a proper case for the youth” by encouraging corporate citizens to invest in the band to construct a world class facility.” The panmen’s call for the organisation to pay out outstanding monies to players has found favour with Ramsey-Moore.
“I support them 100 percent,” she told Sunday Newsday.
“This executive must go immediately.
They should bow their heads in shame.” She contends that the existing leadership has “destroyed the movement that our forefathers fought so hard for.” “Pan is the community’s soul.
It is the rhythm and the beat of the people, the movement of the people and the President has destroyed that.” Ramsey-Moore said Pan Trinbago should be disbanded and revamped to better serve the interests of the national instrument and members of its fraternity.
She pledged to do her part to advance the process.
“I love my steelband. I will continue to make my contribution but Trinidad have to sort out their business. They let this thing go on for too long,” Ramsey-Moore said.