Where is Trinidad and Tobago Carnival really headed?

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By David Lopez 

We all know the answer to this rhetorical question, but why? Is it a poisonous cocktail of political interference, nepotism, corruption and what we call “bad mind”?

Facts surrounding the management of communication from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts (MCDCA) with the audit findings as well as the appointment of the Mas representative to the National Carnival Commission (NCC) need to be brought to the light.

When the MCDCA wrote to the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), an independent body Incorporated by Act of Parliament number 27 of 2007, asking for us to cooperate with them, the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) agreed to this with a vested interest in working with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the benefit of the citizens.

The letter from the MCDCA to the NCBA stated, “as a private organization in receipt of public funds, you are asked to indicate whether your organization is willing to cooperate with the MCDCA in this vein”. The NCBA therefore welcomed the audit as a showing of goodwill.

Here are the facts:

  1. The NCBA is a national Association representing carnival bands, artisans, Kings and Queens and Individuals involved in creating a spectacle for performances and NOT a Government nor state-run body and therefore does not fall under the purview under any Government Ministry.
  1. As an independent body, the NCBA adheres to standard operating and accounting procedures as guided by the Association’s constitution, which is also available in the public domain and a copy always resides on the Association’s website ncbatt.com. The NCBA, in the effort to ensure transparency to its Mas fraternity members, and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago from whom the Association receives subventions, retains the services of two internationally accredited firms: Deloitte, which audited the adjudication system: Carnival Events Management Systems (CEMS) and PKF International for the Association’s financial audits. The NCBA published these audited statements in both 2010 and 2014 respectively.
  1. When working with these firms the Association welcomes the international best practices of the audited procedure, which allows for the due process, which is an opportunity to clarify any queries prior to the submission of any audited report. The NCBA has received and implemented recommendations by these independent auditors to the

best of the Association’s capacity in available funds for administration procedures and policies.

  1. The MCDCA contracted Ernst and Young to conduct their audit. The audit was conducted without obstruction.
  1. When the MCDCA requested that the NCBA be audited, the Association was not obligated to comply, however, we did so with the intent to forge a stronger and continued working relationship with a key vendor, the aforementioned Ministry. Members of the board and executive sat with the MCDCA’s auditors Ernst & Young Services Ltd (EY), who communicated their intention to comply with standard and international auditing practices.
  1. The first draft of the audit was completed and sent to the MCDCA and copies of the audit appeared in the press on October 22, 2017.
  1. The NCBA did not receive a draft copy of the audit which, according to best practices, is done with an intent to ensure objectivity and clarity in findings.
  1. The NCBA was forced to publicly correct information in the print media via the Sunday Express, dated 22th October 2017 captioned, “Audit: Poor accounting at TUCO and NCBA” as reported by journalist Andy Johnson. This article categorically contained erroneous information, purportedly obtained from an audit report conducted by EY. There was no adherence to the standard auditing process of feedback during an audit and NCBA discovered the findings of this audit in the public domain when the mentioned Express article was published.
  1. EY subsequently wrote to the NCBA to state that the draft report was issued to the MCDCA with an intent to have discussions. The letter further assured that this draft was sent in, “strict confidentiality protocols, all of which have been followed with respect to this engagement, both in relation to electronic files, hard copy documents and any verbal communication that may have ensued.” EY has further printed notices disassociating itself from the leak.
  1. The MCDCA has not acknowledged the leak in information and has nominated a non-NCBA Mas Member from a rival Mas interest group, who is of a body that is not incorporated by act of Parliament to represent the Mas fraternity of Trinidad and Tobago.
  1. The Minister of the MCDCA has further aggravated the situation by publicly speaking on the matter urging the government to further audit the NCBA.
  2. The MCDCA has not audited the state-run NCC, the body who is responsible for disbursing the funds.

With reference to the contents of this report and the frequency with which the assertion is made regarding fraudulent activity or intent, the Association strongly condemns the intonation to tarnish the characters of the Board members and by extension the

Association, as being not only involved in dishonest activities but being without integrity, required for public service. All decisions from strategic planning to sanctioning the procurement of services for the Association are done at board level as iterated in the Association’s constitution. It should be noted that all board members are democratically elected from among the Association’s membership.

Of equal concern is, if the audit initiatives on the interest groups were on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago for the Carnival industry or was the MCDCA audit on behalf of a few with personal vested interests and personal political gains within the Carnival industry!

However, the NCBA remains confident that its reputation and good name will be vindicated as it continues to operate with integrity and transparency in the conduct of its business of positive contributions to the development of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

This will be evident in the continued growth of positive NCBA initiatives such as, the Republic Bank Mas Academy Outreach program which assures the inculcation of traditional and conventional costume making among our nation’s schools and other organizations and Individuals, an unbiased and free from tampering online, live/real time Band and Masquerader Performance Adjudication system which assures the accurate and timely awarding of government subvented prize purses for masquerade performances simultaneously occurring across the city of Port of Spain, a Website and online portal which has been providing the platform for live and on demand video, viewer immersed international broadcasts of Trinidad Carnival and exhibition of all current mas bands with their subsequent costumes available for sale targeted to the new emerging type of “stay here play here” tourist who plans vacations online.

NCBA remains cognisant that as a cultural interest group it cannot solely rely on government subventions but become independent with its own means of revenue earning. Therefore, the Association, to the best of its finances allow, employs strict adherence to standard accounting policies and procedures for reporting to its membership and its invested sponsors of which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is one.

It should be noted that over the years we have implored present and past governments for guidance and advice on institutional strengthening measures such as ideal reporting practices, policies and procedures for government assisted initiatives in the quest for operational efficiency and alignment with government perceived best practice. Needless to say, while many promises have been made, most have not been fulfilled, yet we as an organisation have moved on with our continued contributions on improving the Carnival industry, as it relates to mas despite of the many challenges.

We the board members of the NCBA and by extension the Association refute the erroneous and incriminating inferences made public via the reporter’s article, improperly disclosed audited findings from the EY report and now, the tone of the assertions made in Parliament by the current Minister of the MCDCA.

The Association has taken note of the negative impact the above mentioned has made on the good name of the NCBA and advises it will not go unrecognised. However, the Association stands more committed in its mandate to positively serve the people of Trinidad and Tobago in the development of our national treasure bequeathed to us by our forefathers, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

David Lopez

President of National Carnival Bands Association

Email: davidlopezmas@msn.com

Direct number: 1 (868) 765-6066