Manner in which many initiatives executed by Ministry of Culture undermines its efforts and frustrates creative community
We participants of the National Drama Festival – whose names are provided below – would like to address the recently concluded matter of late payments of prize monies due cast and crews of the winning productions of the 2013 festival. In addressing this matter our aims are to:
i) Express our deep concerns for the future of the festival
ii) Highlight as yet unresolved matters arising out of the 2013 National
iii) Propose some possible solutions
But first a little context is in order. On November 30, 2013 the National Drama Festival Awards Ceremony was held, some seven days after the conclusion of the festival. Minister of Culture, Youth & Sport Frank Anthony, in the presence of all those in attendance in the National Culture Centre’s auditorium, made a promise that prize monies would be paid within two weeks of the same evening. This was a pleasant turn of events as the previous two years the festival had been marred by lengthy delays in the judging process, holding of the award ceremony and in the payment of prize monies – among other things, some of which could be put down to teething problems of a new and ambitious initiative, some of which probably should not. (In one instance prize winners were left waiting for two months to collect their modest, but hard-earned winnings.)
When the two-week deadline approached a number of directors, playwrights and actors took it upon themselves – by themselves – to contact the Festival Director, Mr. Godfrey Naughton. The two-week deadline passed without prize monies being paid. Assurances were made by Mr. Naughton that he would try to get the money released in time for Christmas. Christmas passed without prize monies being paid. Some hoped to receive their prize money before the end of the year. 2014 was ushered in without prize monies being paid. All the while prize winners and drama mentors had been taking it upon themselves to investigate, either through Mr. Naughton or with personal contacts at MCYS as to when monies would be released.
However, it was not until the evening of January 5 that the pot boiled over. This is when Festival Director Mr. Godfrey Naughton – now, by his own decision, the former festival director – proclaimed on his Facebook page that where the money was concerned the Ministry “had it but spent it”. By the morning of January 6 word had spread and we very quickly began organizing ourselves. Numerous calls and visits were made to the Ministry to seek an official explanation. We requested an audience with the Minister, PS and/or Director of Culture for January 8 to clear up the conflicting bits and pieces of information that we were receiving up and down the chain. Our request was denied, apparently because of meetings, but we showed up anyway, in our numbers at the Ministry to indicate our seriousness. We were insistent but always polite, else we be accused of being a mob. Whether it was the inquiries and presence of the media, the call we put in to Digicel – who wholly and solely sponsored the prize money, the intervention of parties outside of our immediate group or some combination of these and other factors, we received official word from both the Accounts Department and the Director of Culture that our money would be available the following day. Just in time to put on hold the press conference and media blitz and other actions that we were in motion to begin the very next day. Fortunately for all concerned the Ministry kept its promise and monies were released. From the beginning though we have always planned to issue this very statement. It should have never had to come down to this.
The matter is not over. At the time of writing, closer inspection has revealed that it appears that as much as $600,000 of prize money is missing from our collective winnings. Coming out of the festival, members of Lichas Hall – Linden’s version of the Theatre Guild – discovered that an annual subvention for the hall has been in the Ministry’s budget since 2008. This would be great news if it weren’t for the fact that Lichas Hall up until very recently knew nothing of the subvention and has no record of ever being in receipt of the funds allocated to them. There are also fees due to Lichas Hall for use of the facility during the Linden leg of the festival.
These are just the latest in a long series of incidents that have caused artists great worry and stress. At best the Ministry is inconsistent and lacking in transparency. In this particular incident they have failed to communicate in a clear and convincing manner just what was the reason for the delay in paying prize money. The Ministry claims that discrepancies in Mr. Naughton’s financial submissions were the root of the problem. This is baffling. Digicel has supposedly sponsored the full sum of the prize money (which was handed over to the Ministry before the awards ceremony). A determination had been made as to how much money was to go to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The judges’ decisions have been final ever since. Why the hold up?
We see this year beginning with the deficit of trust that local ‘creatives’ hold for the Ministry, deepening. The Ministry has tried to put the problems of the festival squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Naughton, and while he bears some responsibility he should not bear all. The seemingly ad hoc manner in which many initiatives are executed, deterioration of facilities like the National Culture Centre and poor communication by the ministry all serve to undermine its very own efforts and to frustrate the creative community.
Finally, we would like to propose a solution for how prize monies and monies for drama mentors can be handled; it is a solution that, we are told, the Ministry already employs for Mashramani and, from all accounts, works well. Within one week of the end of the festival the Awards Ceremony can be held, the judges having submitted the names of the winners for the different categories. All monies would be packaged and distributed at the Awards Ceremony or perhaps immediately after. For accounting and auditing purposes the relevant accounting officer would be in place at the National Cultural Centre to sign off on all vouchers and issue all receipts.
We look forward to the Ministry putting measures in place to prevent these incidents from repeating themselves. Only then will the Ministry have begun the long road of rebuilding the trust that has been so severely eroded so that it can truly partner with and serve the creative community and the Arts.