September 20, 2000
By Terry Joseph
PRIME MINISTER Basdeo Panday must be experiencing deep anxiety over the level of respect he is getting from chairmen of boards of State enterprises, after their cavalier disregard of his appeal for support of the impending World Steelband Music Festival.
And Mr Panday gave them a lot of time to determine the size and form of contribution they could afford. It was at Pan Trinbago’s Panorama prize-giving ceremony of 1998 that he first endorsed the Festival and called upon them for help.
At the Queen’s Hall event, Mr Panday drew loud applause when he announced his Government’s support for the World Steelband Music Festival 2000. He promised to advocate it as an official Trinidad and Tobago millennium celebration event and by the same opportunity, pledged “a significant financial contribution”.
In a rousing speech that was widely reported, Mr Panday also expressed the hope that private enterprise and state-run agencies would follow his lead.
He departed from a prepared text to sing the instrument’s praises, describing pannists as “a self-replenishing resource”.
And those among us who were involved in Carnival administration when he was opposition Leader, know that Mr Panday’s appreciation of pan is sincere, as evidenced by his predictable return of each year’s complimentary Panorama tickets; invariably accompanied by his cheque for the purchase of an equal amount.
To his undeniable credit and quite unlike some of his predecessors, Mr Panday has kept every promise made at a public forum to the steelband movement. As it turns out, the World Steelband Music Festival is indeed the only officially approved millennium celebration event.
His Cabinet appointed a committee to plan, organise and execute the contest and his Government not only gave an early $1.5 million grant to the contest, but recently upped the ante by another $1 million.
The “Indian government” that many people of African heritage openly feared would be the death of pan, now turns out to be virtually its sole supporter in the hour of need. Nor is this Indian succour new.
In its fledgling years, businessman Ram Kirpalani single-handedly undertook the financial responsibility of keeping the cash-strapped festival alive for more than a decade.
Black professionals and those of both tribes who have been appointed to crucial decision-making positions in the very State enterprises Mr Panday called upon to help, and executives in the business community he must have felt would take a hint, have not been at all forthcoming.
Of course, he cannot account for private enterprise or the independent professionals. However, the lack of positive response by seniors in those agencies under his purview must therefore be saying something quite unpleasant about the respect they once had for Mr Panday’s judgement.
Quite unfortunately, they chose to express it at the time when we are looking toward them for help in championing the defence of our artistic integrity.
But for the CCN Group, Radio 97, state-owned NBN and The Cascadia Hotel, State enterprises and the business community are yet to cough up a single cent to help fortify this country’s claim to being the home of pan. Here it is—our best chance to date to demonstrate global leadership at anything.
Yet, there is nothing but apathy coming from the very people upon whom we are depending to establish pan as a shining example of our uniqueness.
None of the glee with which they rush to sponsor the Russian Ballet or some other foreign cultural presentation is evident this time, probably because pan is home-grown and our self-esteem, apparently still fettered by imperial values, does not yet allow for the acceptance or celebration of indigenous art.
Perhaps Mr Panday should ponder fresh approaches in his attempt to convince potential funding agencies of their national responsibility to the pan festival.
He might wish to consider making available to the reluctant corporate community, a special facility (even a temporary upward revision of the promised 150 per cent tax-relief to sponsors of cultural activities) for those who rush to the aid of this significant event.
He is also best positioned to increase the sensitivity of his Cabinet Ministers and the honchos at State enterprises to the value of the festival to national psyche and have them demonstrate unambiguous support at every opportunity.
The official Opposition in Parliament must also begin to see the event as national and not a situation in which cheap political points may be scored.
Mr Panday has put his money where his mouth is. It is now left to those who have the wherewithal to do likewise, to demonstrate that their frequent pleasantries about pan is something more than mere lip service.
Terry-J at I-Level
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