Ministry of Culture should say how the $13.25M for Carifesta will be spent

Dear Editor,
In April of this year, I received an e-mail which stated in part:
“The Dept of Culture is preparing for the IGCF in July in French Guiana and Carifesta in Surinam in August… We need to submit a team to participate in the Symposia and Literature at these festivals.  We believe that you should be on this team.  If our proposals are accepted will you be willing for us to put your name forward?”

I agreed without hesitation, only to learn in June that there were ‘restrictions’ on the Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival and hence the 50 member team would not be including any writers, but I would be on the official Carifesta delegation.  I expressed understanding of the mishap, and committed to representing the country at the latter event scheduled to start August 16th.  After receiving no further correspondence on the issue, I made some enquiries to which I received vague and evasive answers, only to be sent an e-mail on Monday of this week which read:

“We have recommend that you be accredited as a private member of Guyana’s Literary Arts team for Carifesta XI. To facilitate this accreditation, the Mash Secretariat needs, urgently, a digital picture of you.”

I complied with the request and then enquired what “private member” meant, only to receive, in part, the following:
“Yes, there will be space for your books among our book display. As for selling, we will not be selling, but you are free to go ahead and do so. Private membership means that you will be responsible for your own travel, accommodation, meals, etc. You will also be able to participate in the literary events of C XI.”

In short, after having all indication that I would be allowed to represent my country months ago as part of the official delegation, I am now informed, four days before the event, that I am welcome to participate but I have to find my own way there.  If it were that I was unaccustomed to the capacity for vindictiveness of the Ministry of Culture, I would not have made the prior arrangements already in place to represent Guyana as a writer and fledgling publisher.  I am already listed, no thanks to the ministry or government, as a presenter at one Carifesta event.  The belated ‘accreditation’ that I was so generously offered is therefore meaningless for all practical purposes, but I will accept it nonetheless in the interest of my country’s image abroad. On my return, however, I am going to undertake and publish a full and well-documented analysis of our representation there.

A few months ago, the Minister of Culture made a big show of hosting auditions for participation in Carifesta, yet the country has not been so far introduced to the persons who made the delegation.  Similarly, we have no clue who was selected for the IGCF in July, nor precisely what is it that they did there.

Secondly, I have previously made the case that Dr Anthony’s management of his portfolio has been marked by a shocking disregard for financial accountability, something for which the Minister has so far escaped scrutiny or censure.  The swimming pool fiasco, the failure to release audited accounts for Carifesta 2008, the complete lack of accountability on the Caribbean Press are the more glaring examples of,  at the very least, circumstantial cause for a full scale audit of the past seven years of his tenure.  Now there is the blatant insult of the $20 million dollars allocated for Carifesta, particularly considering the ministry’s statement that there is only space for 50 people on the delegation.  In short, that works out to a cost of $400,000 per person to be taken overland to neighbouring Suriname.  Last week, I spent a few days in Paramaribo at a very comfortable guest house two doors away from the Carifesta Secretariat – indeed, another guest was one senior Carifesta official. If I were to extrapolate the cost of that visit to the average member of this year’s Carifesta contingent from Guyana, the bill per individual would look thus:

Return overland transportation                                     $15,000
Accommodation ($6000 x 10 nights)                        $60,000
Per Diem ($3000 x 10 days)                                           $30,000
Meals ($3000 x 10 days)                                                  $30,000

That is, a total of $135,000 per participant, or a grand total of $6.75 million – I have an estimate from a group of private persons attending that places the per person cost for attendance at far below that, but I am inclined to be as accurate as possible based on my personal expenditure at

commercial rates.  Minister Anthony should be called on to explain what an approximate $13.25 million of public funds is going to be spent on during the next two weeks.

Discrimination has no place in any mechanism that seeks to improve Guyana.  Dr Anthony has, for example, proudly defended the publication of his daughter’s work by the Caribbean Press, but dodges questions on how it is that there will be no other emerging young local writers’ work, published by the Press, represented at this year’s Carifesta.

The reason Dr Anthony is allowed to get away with his incompetence is that we live in a compromised society.  I will spare the prominent citizens who are aware of precisely what is going on the discomfort of calling them out publicly at their failure to check the Minister’s utter myopia and disregard for disclosure; it is enough that they are aware of their role in directly facilitating what is wrong in this place.

It falls on me again to call on the Ministry of Culture, in the interest of public accountability and information to release the names of those 50 persons who have been selected to represent Guyana at the expense of the public purse.  I am also calling on the ministry to list the precise amounts and categories of expenditure estimated for Guyana’s participation.

Of course, considering the Minister’s tendency to hide from such questions, I do not expect an actual response – I simply seek to provide further proof why Dr Anthony should resign his portfolio and take up a position that fits his core competence.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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