Culture Minister bombarded with queries on art fund
Estimates totalling some $2.4B for the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport were yesterday approved, even as members of the opposition queried expenditures under the Sport and Art Development Fund.
Last year, $94 million was allocated to the fund and APNU MP Chris Jones questioned Culture Minister Dr. Frank Anthony on how the money was expended.
Among the projects, Anthony said that the 1823 slave uprising monument has been completed, a contingent was sent to the Inter Guianas Cultural Festival, six short films dealing with Chinese history were produced and two Cuban Coaches specializing in boxing and swimming were brought in.
AFC MP Dr. Veerasammy Ramaya inquired of the Minister whether the twelve projects were audited to decide if the monies were well spent and who does the auditing. Anthony posited that the Ministry has been audited and that no discrepancies were found. “The fund is audited by the Auditor General every year and so there are no discrepancies with these funds, it has been audited. We have been audited since the inception of the fund up until 2012 and the 2013 funds are currently being audited”, he asserted.
He also said that due to difficulties the Ministry experienced at the National Cultural Centre, $56M was allotted to fix the air conditioning units. “I must say however that when we started going through the bidding to get the contract in place, we experienced some difficulty. One of the contractors took us to court to prevent us from moving ahead and that is why we have not been able to install the AC units as yet,” he explained.
Jones observed that although monies were allocated last year for the fixing of the AC units, allocations have also been made this year. Anthony inform-ed that the funds they received last year were “exhausted. So what we are getting this year is new monies.”
APNU MP Desmond Trotman also queried about the monies allocated for the AC units and Anthony stated that last year’s allocation “those big units we have taken them out. To do that we will have to rewire parts of the cultural centre and the allocation is made here for the rewiring,” he said.
This year, some $100 million has been allocated to the fund and Anthony informed that the monies will be used for a number of visual arts competitions, music in nine native languages, for the slavery reparations committee, music instruments for communities, sports resource centre courses, the folk festival, catholic film festival and an Institute of Creative Arts, which will see the integration of a dance and music school.
Jones also inquired about the committee that allocates the funds and Anthony said that the Permanent Secretary, the Director of Culture and the Director of Sports are on the committee. “They get together and based on the requests that people submit they will make these allocations. So far it has been something the Ministry would have talked to the organizations about these projects and every year a number of proposals have been submitted to us and that is how we go about allocating funds….We have not published it in the newspapers, but that is not something we are averse to doing,” he said.
Chairman of the Committee of Supply, Raphael Trotman also questioned the Minister as to how persons would be able to apply since there are no public advertisements.
“If there are any organizations or any individuals that have projects to consider, we are not excluding anybody. What they need to do is write to the committee and they will be considered,” Anthony said.
Trotman argued, that “a person in Rupununi or Sand Creek would not know how they can access it, how they do qualify and what their terms are.” However Anthony stated that this year the Ministry will be publicizing it so that more persons can become aware.
Other opposition members also grilled the Minister and his team on the fund. APNU’s Carl Greenidge argued that last year Anthony was asked to change the status of the fund since it does not qualify as a local organisation and seems to be an internal body. “In 2012 we had a long discussion on this item and we asked the Minister to ensure that he is going to change the status of the body…from all the explanations the Minister provides it seems to be an internal body. A body has been established with no statutory powers, no particular framework and it is not only using funds but seems to carry over from time to time.”
“…it has to be a body that is formally registered to which resources are transferred, where there is a responsible set of persons identified and in that context we had asked that the criteria for the disbursement of funds be formally set out,” he added.
Another matter of contention that was brought up was the controversial Caribbean Press publishing house.
AFC Executive MP Moses Nagamotoo said, “this is the smallest ministry that has attracted the biggest questions and not without justification. There has been a lot of controversy over the years…The specific controversy has to do with whether or not that last year we noted that the Caribbean Press did do a lot of work but questions were asked…I am not sure if there is any specific allocation to be had under this fund.”
Attorney General Anil Nandlall questioned if the controversy was “Ruel Johnson. What is the controversy?”
Anthony informed that while no monies have been allocated this year to the Caribbean Press, and while there has been “a lot of noise” about the management of the Press, to date they have been able to publish 74 books.
Further, he said that the Ministry is looking at other mechanisms to edit the work submitted by persons who have volunteered at the Press but wish to “move on”. To this end, he said a local editing board will be set up.
He stated that they have invited local writer Ruel Johnson to be a part of the initiatives they have had at the Ministry. “When we started out…he was invited to attend these meetings and he never did and not only did he not attend but what he went on to do was to try to dissuade persons who wanted to bring their work and to have their work published.” (Tifaine Rutherford)