It is my understanding that this week the Ministry of Culture’s estimates are up for consideration before the Committee of Supply in the National Assembly. Predictably, Minister of Culture Dr Frank Anthony has resorted to the disingenuous tactic of tying a contentious allocation with more innocuous ones in the same line item. In this case, the contentious $100 million Sports and Arts Development Fund has been linked with monies budgeted for Castellani House ($39.74M), the National Trust ($54.49M), the Rupununi Weavers Society ($0.15M) and the Theatre Guild of Guyana ($0.75M) for a total of $195.172M under ‘Culture’.
This isn’t the first time Dr Anthony has done this. As part of his Budget 2011 analysis, accountant Christopher Ram had this to say about the Fund:
“For Culture, wages and salaries cost in 2011 are $110 million or 25%; security $42 million or 10%; national and other events $72 million or 16% and Subsidies and Contributions to local organizations $133 million. And here is where there is a huge problem. Page 387 of the Estimates reveals that $100 million of this $133 million goes to a Sports and Art Development Fund of which no account is ever given. Since 2007, some half a billion dollars has been voted for this Fund but with no systems and procedures in place to ensure proper accountability. Despite questions raised in the 2010 budget debate by AFC MP Mr David Patterson about this Fund which was announced with much fanfare in 2007, the Fund appears to have escaped the attention of the Audit Office which never seems to have eyes for some really serious spending. When MP Sheila Holder of the AFC asked for details last year, Dr Frank Anthony dismissively said that ‘reports are not available.’”
Last year, with de facto support from the Alliance For Change, Dr Anthony received his $100 million, promising to spend the money thus: Cuban Coaches – $13.35M; Visual Arts Competition – $20.12 M; 1763 Berbice Revolt 250th Anniversary –$ 20M; continuation of publication of Guyana Classics – $16.25M; Film – $ 9.25; Inter Guiana Cultural Festival – $8.0M; Carifesta XI – $13M, for a total of $99.97 million. The Minister’s revised estimates for 2013 were $94.2 million, which means that most of the money was spent, even as we are not clear precisely on what, and the value for money impact of whatever projects it did cover.
For example, on the Cuban “coaches” programme, basic research shows only one such person, boxing coach Francisco Hernandez Roldan, active in Guyana over the past year. With regard to the Visual Arts Competition, which receives generous private sector support, we have no evidence that anything close to $20.12 million was spent, the same for the $20 million for the Berbice Revolt Anniversary of which the most significant ministry event was the launching of some limited edition commemorative coins. There was no evidence of money spent on Film, an issue I’ve raised before, and the moneys allocated for contingents to the Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival and Carifesta seemed to be very large. Indeed, while the ministry is said to have allocated $13.25 million for the latter event, a revised budget inflated the cost to some $20 million – as I argued in a letter last year, less than $7 million could have taken the official 50-person contingent to neighbouring Suriname, something the ministry was also silent on.
In a previous letter I also questioned government’s allocations for the Guyana Prize which totalled $28.6 million, including $11.6 million from the Fund in 2012, and a further $17 million from Office of the President last year. Considering that the total prize money is normally a maximum of US$21,000 or $4.2 million, and that the Prize ceremony realistically could not top $1 million, the $11 million should have been more than enough, even if you take into account that a double win in the major poetry category last year put the total 2013 Prize payout at US$23,000 or $4.6 million.
Additionally, the Minister promised that $4.7 million was to be spent on writing workshops, some of which he mentioned earlier in the year, with the promise that more would be held. These of course did not happen, and as a facilitator who provided services pro bono for the sessions I conducted, I can guarantee that the format of the workshops, held at the National Library with basic refreshments provided, could not possibly account for that level of expenditure.
Then there is the precise nature of the Fund – at least since 2008, the Fund has been listed under the heading, Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organisa-tions. According to Khemraj Ramjattan, in his letter last year defending the AFC’s support for the Fund, on the question of the legality of the mechanism, the Minister’s “response was the Fund is correctly in the Estimates under the component dealing with Local Organization. Local Organiza-tion is classified in two groups, firstly, Government either under a statute or under a Cabinet instruction; and secondly, a duly recognized and/or incorporated Private Organiza-tion.”
The problem of course is that the reality of the situation is a far cry from this simplistic response. First of all, there is no evidence that any private local organization has received any funding out of the almost $1 billion that has been dispersed since the Fund was put in place – the Minister is free to correct me on that, including the total amount to which private organisations have been funded. In this year’s budget, the two private entities included in the lump sum $195 million line item – the Theatre Guild and Rupununi Weavers’ Society – are considered separate allocations outside of the $100 million, and in total amount to less than $1 million.
Secondly, even by the specious definition of eligibility of government organisations to access the Fund, none of the government’s initiatives (which account for what appears to be all of the actual expenditure), with the exception of the Guyana Prize, are properly constituted under statute or the extremely vague “Cabinet instruction.” Indeed the fund itself is not properly constituted and is run without the benefit of a board or steering committee or even de facto rules of operation.
My advice to the parliamentary opposition is to insist that Dr Anthony delink the Fund from the other allocations under the line item and have him account fully and with credible information on how the money was spent, not just last year but since the inception of the Fund.