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May 05, 2017 - Volume 1, No. 20

Pantrinbatgo in the 21st century
(the world's governing body for steelbands)

“You hearing pan arrange
Since in 1943
But there will be drastic change
In the 21st century.
Having heard the melody
It is plain for you to see
What the pan would be
In the 21st century.”

Kitchener (steelband griot)

World Governing Body of Pan - the headquarters
Picture by Bertel Gittens: World Governing Body of Pan - The Headquarters

I dedicate this article to my panjumbie friend Earl “Brains” King from St. Joseph Road, behind the bridge in the city of Port of Spain, Trinidad. Earl lived in Brooklyn and last month he passed and continued his journey to meet his ancestors. Earl was an early pan player of Fascinators Steelband of John John, Trinidad and the founder of Brooklyn jouvert celebrations which is still the only all steelband music event for labor-day.

Last summer 2016, Earl and I heard the rumblings about corruption in the world governing steelband body, Pantrinbago. Then, sometime in October 2016, Mr. Byron Serrette, vice-president of pantrinbago tendered his resignation to the organization citing that he discovered a trail of questionable financial transactions and a large and growing debt within pantrinbago. Serious charges indeed. In November of the same year, Mr. Serrette said that he submitted a fifteen (15) page memorandum to President Keith Diaz of pantrinbago about his concerns of the operations of pantrinbago. Mr. Serrette concluded that the results of an audit showed that pantrinbago was very close to insolvency. It was this last statement (audit) that got my attention. Soon after, Mr. Serrette’s conclusion, pantrinbago declared that it owed the banks over thirty million dollars.

This year 2017, just before the carnival celebrations the steelband world (face book carried it) witnessed a challenge from pan players who demanded their panorama 2016 stipends from the world governing body for steelbands, namely Pantrinbago. This group was led mainly by panist Dane Gulston (Trinidad All Stars) and others who expressed their dissatisfaction with the governing body. There were cries of corruption in pantrinabgo and calls for the executive board to resign. Some even called for boycotting panorama 2017, the national festival.

This challenge did not emerge from any attempt to change structural things in the organization. Instead, it was simply a call for the pan players to be paid for last year’s (2016) participation in the panorama festival. The pan players claimed that they were not paid for their services for panorama 2016 as pan players from different steelbands. They demanded the meager sum of one thousand dollars for each pan player which is the salary that pantrinbago pays to pan players for their performances at the panorama. They also emphasized that the steelbands who won the three categories (small, medium and large steelbands) were paid but not the pan players.

Perhaps, the biggest disappointment in this call was the delayed response from the minister of culture, who controls the funds for cultural organizations and funding for pantrinbago. Her response was to wait and refuse to meet the dissenters. Finally, she stepped forward to say that she will do an investigation of pantrinbago since the pan players were also alleging that there was malfeasance in the executive board. She added that there would be a forensic audit of the organization in September 2017, nine months later. I know that some of you are saying that she giving them time to hide or cook the books. But, I am not saying that. But, you can always tell when nothing is going to happen whenever there is a lengthy postponement.

Let’s follow the story. Pantrinbago’s response was that they owed the banks over 30 million TT dollars and did not receive any money from the government. That last one was disqualified by the minister of culture who admitted that she gave the National Carnival Commission (NCC) the money for pantrinbago. This was confirmed by the president of NCC. Can you see where this is going? Alas, the pan players called for president of pantrinbago Keith Diaz and the whole executive board to resign and demanded an audit of the books to find out if money was stolen and why the organization owed such a high amount of money to the banks. Now, some would ask: why all this fuss when the alleged malfeasance was going on for years under every government administration, particularly the PNM which is now in power? I will return to answer that later.

As a result of this bacchanal (local for confusion), I decided not to write about panorama this year but render my two cents about pantrinbago to get in on the ground floor of the forensic audit investigation. Why? Well, it is the world governing body of the steelbands. Any organization with that magnanimous title deserves to be investigated when there are allegations of corruption and the withholding of wages to pan players. Let’s take a look at Article 4 of pantrinbago’s constitution. Its objectives are as follows:

ARTICLE 4 - OBJECTIVES

The objectives of the Association shall be:

1. To act as the sole representative for members and member Steelbands in all matters relative to the development, promotion and performance of Steelpan and Steelband music within the Republic and throughout the world in its capacity as the World Governing Body for Steelpan and Steelband music.

2. To promote the playing of steelpan and steelband music in every way it deems fit.

3. To initiate, stimulate and improve programmes for steelpan players, ensembles, groups and steelbands and to promote and develop participation to foster healthy relations among affiliated associations and their officials and members.

4. To unite all members and associations worldwide without discrimination against a country or an individual for reasons of race, religion, sex or politics.

5. To preserve the steelpan as an indigenous musical art form and the National Musical Instrument of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

6. To encourage and conduct:

    a) programmes of technical research and development on the steelpan; and

    b) programmes of historical research and documentation on the steelpan and steelband movement.

7. To promote, encourage, support and develop audiences for the preservation, enjoyment and appreciation of performances by steelpan and steelband musicians.

8. To uphold the principle of institutional control of and responsibility for every type of steelpan, the musical instrument, and steelband music by taking such steps as shall be deemed necessary or advisable to prevent infringement of the statutes and/or regulations of the Association, to prevent the introduction of improper methods or practices in the manufacture, tuning, blending and playing of steelpan and steelband instruments and to protect it from abuses.

In light of the present allegations and calls for resignations of the president and all executives, it is time for this objective to be included: To be transparent and accountable to member steelbands and members of pantrinbago and follow the best practices of management.

Who are the members of pantrinbago? The members are all the steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago and not pan players. That distinction is the rooster that has been crowing since 1963 when the first panorama was held in the mecca of steelbands. Again, we look to Article 6 of the constitution:

ARTICLE 6 - MEMBERSHIP

1. Subject to the rules and regulations of the Association for the time being in force, the membership of the Association and its outreach organs shall be open to all bona fide steelpan and/or steelband players, ensembles, associations, sponsors, benefactors, patrons, friends, Individuals, tuners, arrangers, solo players or any other persons sympathetic to the steelband movement and/or to the aims and objectives of the Association.

2. Membership in the Association shall be of an Ordinary, Honorary or Affiliate nature and shall be based on such criteria established or varied from time to time by the General Body.

3. There shall be no restriction upon admission to membership for the reasons of gender, literacy/educational background, social status, race, colour, creed, ethnic origin, profession, vocation or political affiliation.

SECTION A. - ORDINARY MEMBERSHIP

1. This form of membership shall be restricted to bona fide Steelbands.

2. Each ordinary member shall be entitled to hold office in and to attend and vote at all meetings of the Association and to enjoy such other privileges as may be extended by the Central Executive Committee

3. No ordinary member shall be entitled to vote at any meeting of the Association unless he is in good financial standing.

SECTION B. - HONORARY MEMBERSHIP

1. This form of membership shall be conferred upon such individuals, groups, ensembles and/or associations within or outside the Republic who or which in the collective opinion of the members of the Central Executive Committee have made a outstanding contribution to the development, enhancement or expansion of the steelband movement.

2. No honorary member shall be entitled to hold office in or to vote at meetings of the Association but may enjoy such privileges as may be extended by the Central Executive Committee.

SECTION C - AFFILIATE MEMBERSHIP

1. This form of membership shall be granted to recognized steelband tuners, arrangers, solo steelpan or steelband players and artistes and/ or association of such persons, sponsors, benefactors, patrons, and friends of the steelpan and steelband movement within the Republic and to such persons, steel orchestras and their members as may be resident outside of the Republic.

2. No affiliate member shall be entitled to hold office in or to vote at meetings of the Association but shall enjoy such privileges as may be extended by the Central Executive Committee.

Pantrinbago is a not-for-profit organization that was formed to represent the interests of bona fide steelbands and conduct the various steelband festivities. However, it has no control of pan players to decide what wages a panist receives for her labor, except if that panist participates in the panorama in a steelband. Pantrinbago is not a union but a not for profit organization dependent totally on government funding from taxpayers money.

Therefore, pantrinbago does not determine what wages a panist receives if she plays in a club, hotel, inclusive or exclusive fete or any event outside of panorama. I must admit that an attempt was made to form a steelband union under the late president George Goddard, the former president of the National Association of Trinidad & Tobago Steelbandsmen (NATTS, for-runner to pantrinbago) from 1962-1971. But that attempt was struck down by the then PNM government who did not particularly like unions. As such, Mr. Goddard received no support from the steelbands for his innovative idea. He paid a high price for that attempt and almost became homeless had it not been for his wife and family. The politics did not make it easy to introduce new ideas in the steelband movement as most of the steelbands supported the PNM and Mr. Goddard was drifting away from the PNM and into the Black Power movement. It was 1970.

From April 1950, when the Steelband Association of Trinidad & Tobago (SATT) was formed to the present, steelbands have received funding from every government to run the panorama festival and other steelband activities. During this period there was never any auditing of any of the steelband organizations, including pantrinbago. In my memory, there was one attempt to audit pantrinbago but there was a suspicious fire and all the documents were burnt according to the then president. It is alleged that the fire was set to destroy documents and avoid any evidence of malfeasance. I do not know.

In any serious country there would have been annual or bi-annual audits to see how the organization was spending the tax-payers money. But, it is difficult to make that demand on the island when many government ministers do not have audits or provide parliament with account of their finances as they are required to do by law. The two pillars of good governance: accountability and transparency are not often practiced by local governments. The island from which the steelbands was invented is not culturally bound to best practices like other countries. The steelband, its development, its representative world body and the executive board are not held to the above rules.

Of course, throughout the years a few steelband captains made some noise if they did not receive their prize money for participating in the panorama or any other steelband activity. Once steelbands received their monies the silence was deafening. Throughout the years, the only time that steelbands challenged pantrinbago was when they felt cheated out of their panorama monies or did not receive financial or other help to move their pans (instruments) from the panyards to the panorama event. An example was when the steelbands from the Southern region did not receive transportation assistance from pantringao. Another time was when the steelbands in the sister island of Tobago could not arrange facilities to house their pan players for the panorama events.

That begs the following questions: why the uproar now by Mr. Gulston and his fellow pan players? Why no government has audited the organization throughout the years? Why the accusations from some pan players that there is malfeasance in pantrinbago? Why hasn’t anyone who is accused of malfeasance in pantrinbago ever been investigated, brought to court, convicted and sent to jail for stealing taxpayers money. This subsidy has been given to pantrinbago since 1971, when it was formed to the present. The answers lie in the politics and culture of the island.

First, let’s talk politics. Since the beginning of the steelband movement, the founding fathers of the PNM have always sought the support of the steelbands at election time, especially steelbands from East Dry River and behind the bridge. Why? Well, most of steelband members are of African descent and are “PNM till dey dead” supporters. What does that mean? It means that from Port of Spain in what is known as the East-west corridor to Toco and Tobago, the PNM was guaranteed winning those electoral seats due to African demographics. In exchange, the PNM made a calculated and politically wise decision to support steelbands in their financial needs. Why? Well, steelbands are not profit making ventures for businesses to support, so government subsidy is necessary for the survival of the steelband movement. And that is not an alternative fact.

Another important aspect for the steelband movement is that most of the multi-million dollar businesses on the island are not of African descent. Those groups have no cultural ties to the steelband movement. Many of them see the steelband as an African cultural event even though they and their children participate in the carnival mas bands. This distance of said finances from management of pantrinbago gives the government legitimacy to lend financial assistance to steelband festivities like panorama and other community functions featuring the steelbands to sustain those events. Prize monies are distributed and steelbands can break even when they participate in the island’s main festival, panorama. Steelbands are paid for the preliminaries, semi-finals and finals of the competition. Even some government spaces so that steelbands can open a panyard for the carnival or use it after carnival. Some steelbands are even permitted to practice in community government centers. As a result, most steelbands have no title or ownership to the land on which they set up their panyards. This displays the ‘class’ side of the steelband movement. Ownership has never been fostered on them by any government.

During the early years of the steelband movement, the African middle class wanted to show the nation that the steelband was a respectable item on the island. But, first it had to get steelbands to follow the most important musical value of the middle class, namely classical music. And so, steelbands were nurtured to play classic music. Soon, there were musical festivals held every two years. It was at that time that some businesses got involved by sponsoring some of the financial needs of the steelbands and the musical festival itself. Some businesses in the Syrian and Indian communities played a part but the main funding came from the government.

From 1951, when Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), the first steelband to leave the island to participate in the festival of Britain, to the present, steelbands have been dependent on government subsidies to hold their community and national events or travel abroad. That dependency on government funding and not businesses produced the dilemma of the steelband movement for the 21st century. As a result, the steelband movement became totally dependent on government subsidy for its existence. And, every government understood the political power they derived from that continuous support for the steelband movement. The end result was that no government demanded accountability or transparency from any steelband organization, including pantrinbago. In the meantime, every government delivered to pantrinbago year after year taxpayers money for steelband festivals and activities: Panorama competition, Pan down memory lane. Pan in the community, Borough Day, Jouvert Bomb competition, Music Festival, Pan on the Avenue etc.

This lack of accountability and transparency in pantrinbago from its executives is the price the steelband movement paid for the money they receive from the government. After all, government ministers are not held accountable nor are their financial matters transparent to the public. No government minister from the present administration has ever gone to jail (except the former prime-minister Basdeo Panday for a few days), no matter the seriousness of the accusations about corruption. And steelbands know it.

The undisclosed fact is that the steelband movement is the only valuable financial item on the island that Africans control and owned and has become their main source of status and pride. There are no many multi-million businesses under African control. That is why nothing changes in pantrinbago except presidents or executives on the board of pantrinbago whilet the behavior remains the same for every president and executive member. There are no African business oligarchs controlling any legal sectors of the nation to render financial support to steelbands to enable them to engage in activities on their own without government assistance. Every steelband and pan players know this. And there lies the rub. When a people are subjected to outlier membership in finance, it seeks its financial income from different sources. For pantrinbago executives, any position on the board results in an opportunity to amass large sums of money for themselves without having to account for it. That must stop.

Today, there are over two hundred steelbands on the twin-island of Trinidad and Tobago. Every steelband has to be an updated dues paying member of pantrinbago to enter any steelband competition on the twin-islands. Each steelband has two delegates to represent the interests of their steelband at pantrinbago. They have the right to vote on any issue that pantrinbago puts forward. Yet, often times you will hear pan players complain about pantrinbago and its faults. At times, pan players will accuse pantrinbago of corruption and nepotism. And yet, I have never heard any complaints from steelband managers or executives except if they did not receive their carnival stipend or there was a failure by pantrinbago to organize transportation for their band.

My disclosure is that I have many complaints with pantrinbago and the steelbands but, I also know that steelbands cannot exist without pantrinbago and pantrinbago cannot exist without government largesse. More importantly, pantrinbago is one of the few organizations that Africans run and practically own, bad as it is. Pantrinbago represents the musical organizations from which the only instrument created in the 20th century, the steelbands. That makes it more critical to make things right in the organization.

Therefore what is needed is a change in the behavior of steelbands before pantrinbago can change. What is also needed is another organization to represent the interests of pan players because pantrinbago’s only interest is steelbands. The organization was incorporated by an Act of Parliament, 5 of 1986 to govern steelbands and not pan players. Can pantrinbago be improved to better serve steelbands and its members without government subsidies? I say yes but it depends on the steelband leaders.

The real question is whether steelbands want the kind of improvements that a few panjumbies, especially those abroad wants from the organization? Another important question is can pantrinbago receive government support and be political as well? The answer is no because every organization that receives government subsidy is careful of criticizing the government for fear of losing said subsidies. But, it is political as most of its steelbands membership supports the pnm party.

Shall we move on to culture? The culture and class structure of the island handicaps the steelband movement. The two major cultural groups on the island are of African and Indian descent, mostly on the island of Trinidad. In Tobago, Africans outnumber Indians. Most of the steelbands are African oriented since its inception with a few Indians participating. I am not alleging any form of racism or exclusiveness in the steelband movement. On the contrary, the steelband movement is one of few institutions on the twin islands that practices meritocracy and inclusiveness. If you can’t play the steelpan you just will not make the cut for any competition, no matter how black you are or how male. Race and gender doesn’t matter when it comes to playing the instrument. That can be seen today by the amount of young women and Indians and other groups playing in the various steelbands. The cultural divide lies in the parents and grandparents of other communities who through their wealth may not support a steelband. Yes, there are business sponsors for many steelbands but that sponsorship is tax free so it doesn’t cost a business anything extra to their bottom line. This causes the dependency of the steelbands for government funding. That’s cultural.

Now that the mark buss (again), the pan players who are dissatisfied with pantrinbago may look at a few of my suggestion for pantrinbago of the 21st century.

1. Annual financial audits from Pantrinbago after every carnival.

2. Publication of the audit results to all the steelband members, within two months after every carnival.

3. Pantrinbago must provide on their internet page statistics for every steelbands’ place and points in the annual panorama competition starting with the first panorama in 1963 and the bi-annual music festival.

4. Amend the constitution to allow all presidents to serve only two four year terms.

Pantrinbago must earn its title as the world governing body for steelbands by being an example for steelband leadership. The changes in pantrinbago must be a beacon to the world and flow to the steelbands. Panjumbies from all over should be able to access from pantrinbago information about local steelbands.

The principal focus must be accountability and transparency which helps to decrease corruption. Publication of income and expenditure tells the steelbands and the public how much money is being held in the organization’s account and how much is being spent. Pantrinbago’s web site must be the place where supporters (panjumbies) of the steelband movement throughout the world can go to for all information about the local steelbands. Two terms of four year presidency breaks the choke hold that any presidents can have on the organization.

Steelbands have to address the voting process at pantrinbago. If the steelbands prefer delegated voting instead of one person, one vote, then the steelbands are accountable for what they vote for. Steelbands should form a Council of Steelband Leaders to discuss the issues facing each steelband on the island. This Council should hold annual meetings and present to their steelband members a report of how the band’s money is spent. Steelband members should be given an opportunity to discuss the relevant issue(s) within the steelband mobement and each steelband should hold a secret ballot vote on the relevant issue(s) and send the outcome to pantrinabgo. If the majority of steelbands vote for a particular issue, then pantrinbago will implement the wishes of the steelband movement. But, it is the steelbands responsibility and duty to make these changes and see that pantrinbago adheres to them.

The main focus of pantrinbago should be the improvement and management of panorama; general welfare of steelbands; management of local steelband festivities and protecting the history of the steelband movement. For that, pantrinabago should invite the best minds from UWI (University of the West Indies) to join its executive board to advance panorama as the best steelband festival the island has to offer. It is time for a national steelband museum while many steelband pioneers are still alive and memorabilias can still be found. Pantrinbago should invite the business community to discuss with the government ways and means it could contribute to the building of a national steelband museum via public and private donations. Over the last few decades, there are more and more international panists traveling to Trinidad for carnival to play in the panorama festival or arrange for the various steelbands on the island.

Today, the steelbands have to realize that the brand of the steelband movement is panorama and pantrinbago is its caretaker. There has to be serious attempts made to keep the young pan players involved in the steelband movement, not just as pan players but managers too. This is the steelbands moment to reorganize pantrinbago for the 21st century. If they fail to seize this moment then this panjumbie will confirm that the steelbands not serious at all and it will be more of the same. I wish them well.

I just saw Khalick, Dane, Byron and Keith walking up Laventille Road to Desperadoes.

“Life is a stage
And we are the actors
And everybody have a part to play.”

Valentino (calypso griot)

 

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