Launched in May 2009, the Caribbean Press initiative came out of the President’s promise in 2008 to commit US$100,000 – some $20 million – annually towards an indigenous regional publishing house, one dedicated as it was understood then to the publication of contemporary Caribbean writing.
As it is now, what we know that the Caribbean Press is nothing close to what was promised; no contemporary writers have so far been published; the editorial board exists outside of the region; the books are printed outside of not only Guyana but the region; and despite the Ministry of Culture taking responsibility for the press, there is not so much as a contact person available at the ministry responsible for it.
While I find as indefensible that the policy direction and management of what is supposed to be an indigenous press lies completely outside of the region, equally as important is the issue of fiscal accountability.
I have learned from the press that there are 30 titles that have been and are being printed; we further understand that there is a standard number of 400 copies of each of these titles being printed. Having examined similarly sized publications produced locally, and comparing commercial quotations for more high-gloss publications regionally, we can safely say that the production costs of the Caribbean Press should not exceed a generously estimated US$5 per copy.
If we consider that there are a total of 12,000 (30 x 400) books printed this should result in a total estimated cost of US$60,000. And, further, if we were to take on face value the President’s commitment of US$100,000 – which has not been modified or otherwise qualified since it was made – as annual, it means that so far US $300,000 or $60 million has been invested in the Caribbean Press. If it is that the commitment was a one-off, then it would be simply the US$100,000. Either way, assuming that my estimated printing costs and number of copies produced are correct, we still have either US $40,000 or US $240,000 to account for.
While focusing on accountability in the execution of infrastructural or material projects is an important part of the media’s role, equally important is the interrogation of the use of funds in the execution of service provision projects paid for by the taxpayer as well.