FIRE THE ENTIRE BOARD OF THE TOBAGO FESTIVALS COMMISSION

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……and even the THA itself for lack of accountability over the past 15 years

FINANCE BY DAVID WALKER ACCOUNTANT & DATABASE EXPERT

I was chatting with a dear friend earlier in the week about some of the excellent work that she and some of her col­leagues do in support of kids in a disadvantaged area. She speaks passionately about the tangible benefits of their work with young­sters, delivering outstanding per­formances in education, sport and other fields of endeavour. She re­lated how three of the young girls they assisted were presented with national awards in the past few months.

At that very moment, her group was busy preparing for a fund-rais­ing BBQ to be held the following day in anticipation of their annual Children’s Christmas event. The or­ganisation and planning were truly impressive. They set their target at 300 meals on the basis of past per­formance and the resources they had at their disposal (data-driven deci­sion making). Work was allocated to group members (HR) based on proven competence and resources (cookers, vehicles etc) volunteered by each member.
All activities were coordinated centrally by my friend who moni­tored progress in all critical areas without micromanaging (evidenced by her being able to speak with me while hectic activity was taking place). She was also one of the criti­cal players in the production as she was the main planner of the menu, determining required ingredients (purchasing) and being one of the three main cooks (production).
It would be a massive understate­ment to say that I was impressed. I could think of many areas of our na­tional political governance and op­erations where such abilities could have a transformative impact. These are people from what many regards as one of our most denigrated areas, yet here is a group of their residents displaying abilities that put our lead­ers to shame.
These are people who are rou­tinely denied opportunities to work at levels way below the competen­cies shown here. And they are not alone. There are many similar proj­ects and persons in other similarly condemned corners of the country. Especially in the field of social welfare, I could just imagine what they and their ilk could achieve if they were empowered locally to use their skills and commitment towards the efficient expenditure of public funds.

Full accounting

Remarkably, the most impressive part of my friend’s work was yet to be revealed. Bear in mind that the event had not yet been held. Despite that, in response to a question from one of the group, she was able to provide a full accounting for mon­ies spent, monies still owed to sup­pliers, number of tickets pre-sold, amount of cash collected. She told them how many more tickets were available for sale, who had them, the full nine yards.
In response to my inquiry she in­dicated that a full accounting would be provided to all affected parties in­cluding the intended recipients of the profits within one week of the event. She explained that such reporting was critical in obtaining and retain­ing the support of the members of her group and the entire community, and she would not have it any other way. She insists that accounting in a professional and timely manner is much less difficult than putting it off for later.
I was naturally forced to con­trast the performance of this under resourced group and its members with the highly and extravagantly resourced groups in government and particularly the folks at the Heritage Commission in Tobago. Common sense and experience tell us that accounting for an event is straight­forward. Anyone who cannot man­age those functions should not be entrusted with running any event. The experience of this small group proves it. Many other such groups organising and managing charitable event also prove it on a weekly ba­sis.
That is why it is so galling to see that the Festival Commission is un­able to report on the financial and other outcome of their events years after they have been held. What’s worse is that we have evidence placed in front of us of misspend­ing of large sums of money, most notably perhaps on performers who don’t even arrive to perform. This community group expects to be judged on their results particularly financial. They judge themselves on that basis and invite others to do likewise.
Every weekend in this country there are very many events tak­ing place. Promoters keep careful tabs on their expenditure on even more careful tabs on their income. By the end of each event, the pro­moter knows, if not to the last dol­lar, what the financial outcome has been. Just as with my friend and her group, financial performance is the key, though not the only metric that determines whether the event is re­peated in future.

The THA has not obtained a clean audit in the last 15 years

I can tell you that there is analysis of the performance subsequent to the event. They evaluate whether best prices were obtained for supplies (should they be buying at the mar­ket or local shop for example), could they sell more meals through other channels, how would their produc­tion capacity hold up. They may not use the terms that I do but this is what they’re doing and doing it absolutely brilliantly.
State funded organisations like the Festivals Commission in Tobago should be absolutely ashamed that they cannot come near to the stan­dard of performance of these groups. In fact, such failure should result in automatic dismissal of those in charge. Shall we continue to funnel money to such incompetent appoin­tees when we know that we could achieve much more with the same resources if only we are prepared to put people of proven competence in charge?
I would fire the entire board of the Festivals Commission forthwith. I would do the same for every other non-reporting and non-performing part of the THA and Central Govern­ment. We know that we have people in every sector of society who can and do deliver. Our leaders need to take off their political blinkers and appoint persons who will deliver and also account for what they have de­livered. This small group and other similar ones across the country have proven time and again what is pos­sible.
I count this as one of the more positive encounters I have had over the years, especially with regard to how we spend our public money and how we account for it. In this small group, they regard the funds that they use and the money that they raise as public money (within their commu­nity) and use it and account for it as if it were their own, perhaps even to a higher standard than their own.

A clean audit

Not only should we reward such noble efforts but we should reward ourselves and the nation by high­lighting it and demanding the same from every person or group that spends public money. I would love to see us start with the Tobago Festivals Commission and the Tobago House of Assembly at large, they who con­temptuously fail to present financial statements and supporting docu­ments to the Auditor General then blame the Auditor General for their failure to obtain a clean audit for the last 15 years.
There is a better way. Planning, performance and accountability are not alien to us as a nation. It is only alien to those who seek to lead us.