……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.
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.