Petrotrin cuts steelband funding

SPONSORSHIP enjoyed by three steelbands has been pulled by Petrotrin’s successor company Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd, weeks before the preliminary round of the National Panorama competition is scheduled to kick off.

The three bands who flew the Petrotrin flag and carried its title up until 2018, are Katzenjammers from Tobago, led by Pan Trinbago’s president Beverly Ramsey-Moore; Siparia Deltones; and the Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando based band, Hatters.

This crushing blow to these three bands and approximately 20 others it previously assisted, comes less than two months after Petrotrin permanently shut its doors and sent home its 5,000-strong work force last November.

The inevitable fall-out on culture and Carnival was predicted but bands seem to have been caught napping, as they were still holding out hope especially as government has slashed its annual subvention by some $10 million.

For 2019 the pan body has received an allocation of $20 million, downgraded from $30 million, to run the show. Ramsey-Moore has confirmed that was insufficient to manage its affairs and has indicated she might be heading back, cap-in-hand, to beg for a few millions more.

In the interim she has put panmen on notice not to expect any stipend for 2019 and 2020. The $1,000 stipend for players for 2018, however, is still outstanding. She has also advised leaders to hold events to generate revenue while appealing to all of TT to support the national festival and instrument.

Heritage chairman Wilfred Espinet made no apology as he told Newsday yesterday they just could not afford to sponsor bands any more as it was not part of its core operations. He said they had to borrow money to sustain the replacement company while still meeting the debt left by Petrotrin and simply could not borrow at high interest rates to give away to entities that did not add value to their operations.

“Despite our emotions, we have to be pragmatic enough to understand if I am borrowing money and one of the line items is that I am borrowing money to give to institutions that are not going to add value to our process, that is going to be a big problem, especially now, when the US stock exchange has changed dramatically that people are running away from risks. We will be right back to where we started. We might not come out of where we are, which is what we are trying to do.”

Based on that he said, “Heritage will not be sponsoring a band for Panorama 2019. There is no continuation between one (Petrotrin) and the other (Heritage). We will offer some limited support, but this is not to say Heritage is doing that. Petrotrin was the one doing these things and we are going to see how we can help.”

Ramsey-Moore did not respond to calls or messages following Espinet’s confirmation, but in an earlier interview she said she was in conversation with Reynold Ajodhasingh, one of the directors and was hoping for a positive outcome.

Akinola Sennon who indicated he was in discussions with Heritage said a response would be forthcoming. David Balbosa, manager of Hatters took a more pragmatic approach saying he was not surprised. Balbosa said Hatters was in “dire straits” but the company was yet to engage its executive committee on money talks.

Espinet said he found it difficult, “to believe that we would have successfully developed a culture that is dependent solely on handouts. People must have an ambition to settle their own affairs without this expectation of indefinite funding.”

Espinet recalled earlier days when steelbands operated without sponsors and suggested if the culture was so critical then a way must be found for national support.

He said Petrotrin would have spent tens of millions in support of the fraternity and that and other tasks it assumed, such as delivering water and gas to communities, maintaining play grounds, housing priests and nuns, would have caused the company to become defunct.

“It is difficult for this company (Petrotrin) to be measured as a company because it was spending monies in areas companies don’t spend money. So, when you start to lose money then you say that its badly managed. It was badly managed because it was doing things companies don’t do. It had gotten very confused as to what it intended to do.”

Weighing in on the predicament, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrell, who is also CEO of CAL Skiffle, said the writing was on the wall but the bands did not see it. He said it was an opportunity for bands to become proactive and creative if they wanted to survive.