Trinidad and Tobago


NCC board collapses
Members upset over charges by Minister

July 02, 2001

NATIONAL Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Claude Clarke has offered the Government his resignation, while another board member has quit.

The Commissioners are upset over statements attributed to Culture Minister Ganga Singh and Junior Culture Minister Winston "Gypsy" Peters.

During an emergency meeting last night, Commissioner Arnim Smith resigned outright, saying Singh would receive his letter first thing this morning.

But Don Sylvester said no one could run him because he did nothing wrong, and if the Minister wished him to resign "he should be big enough to say so".

Representatives of the three special interest groups (SIGs) said they would consult their organisations today.

Singh said his Ministry was probing expenditure of more than $3 million on unbudgeted projects by the NCC last Carnival season.

Clarke said, "I am offering my resignation but I will not abandon the show with no one in charge. "As soon as the Minister selects a new chairman I will do a responsible handover. It was an honour to have been asked to serve."

Singh itemised the cost of seven projects which he said were undertaken without budgetary approvals.

But Smith said last night the Minister forgot to mention two other important areas.

Smith said, "It was Ganga Singh who instructed the NCC board to increase the number of free tickets given to each of his Cabinet colleagues from two to six, trebling the figure we had budgeted for the all-inclusive section of the Grand Stand.

"He also seems to have conveniently forgotten another important piece of expenditure, as a matter of fact more than $180,000ó which was the liquor bill he and his guests ran up at the Hospitality Bar and left us to pay," Smith said.

Clarke said he had little choice but to offer his resignation since Singh attempted to paint a picture of mismanagement of funds and operations by the board.

"It is unfortunate that the Minister did not check with his predecessor in the portfolio before making such reckless statements," Clarke said.

"Every project he listed as under scrutiny was the subject of a Cabinet note, and the former Minister indicated her willingness to support those initiatives, which is what gave us the impetus to begin the planning process.

"The budget proposals for all seven projects were before Singh. It is only on Carnival Friday he advised they would not be approved. If we waited until we got word or formal approval, no part of Carnival 2001 would have come off.

"In the case of the television screens, the $1.5 million spent on that project was supposed to bring in over $2 million in revenue. We got approval to erect the screens from the Works Ministry and as soon as we signed the contract and began the job, the Planning Ministry wrote letters to all potential advertisers telling them they can face imprisonment or heavy fines for being part of the project. This is the kind of crazy environment in which we attempted to mount the national festival.

"If you take this aspect of our culture seriously you would begin to look at investments in certain things like the Carnival magazine and the provision of sanitary facilities throughout the main centres. When we decided on a website he was okay with it, and I canít think of a person who really understands Carnival who would wonder why we hired additional staff for the season.

"All our plans were presented to the Minister and the press and I feel we should have done all we did even though we knew we were in limbo because of the December elections which delayed changes at that level of authority.

"I fail to understand why, except for sensationalism, he should go to the press over the investment of $3 million in a festival that generates more than $300 million in additional revenue each year.

"Imagine he is saying he only gave the NCC approval to spend $1.9 million. I wonder if the Minister knows that some promoters spend that kind of money to advertise a single event.

"Obviously all of this is serving another agenda, but it shows the lack of seriousness in all areas of administration of cultural matters. If Minister Singh wanted to change the NCC board he could do so with the stroke of a pen. There was no need to attempt to bring peopleís names into disrepute in this way," Clarke said.

Smith added: "The payments to board members was $184,000 and not $300,000 as Singh said. He should find out how many people gave up their private jobs for the period to work exclusively on Carnival. He should know that when Wendy Kallicharan came here from San Fernando every day to work for 12 or 14 hours she rented a car out of the $8,000 per month approved for her.

"We informed him about the move to make the directors executive for the three-month period and he offered no objection. We told him our lawyers said the Act gave us that option and we did it to get the work of Carnival done," Smith said.

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