Performers at the Pembroke Salaka Feast, an integral event on the Tobago Heritage Festival calendar, at the Pembroke Heritage Park last July. File photo –
Outstanding payments for the Tobago Heritage Festival 2023 will be paid by the end of the month.
Tashia Burris, Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, made this promise as she spoke to members of the media on Monday.
For the past few weeks, several performers and service providers have complained that they have not been paid for last year’s festival, which ran from July 21-August 1.
A demonstration was planned outside Burris’ office on Monday, but only two people showed up. The protest was eventually cancelled.
Burris, who is on sick leave, expressed regret over the situation.
“This is something that the Department of Culture had done for a number of years, (but) with the recent proclamation of the procurement legislation, a number of additional things had to be done.”
So the processing of payment took a little bit longer than we anticipated.”
She said there were also some staff changes, as well as the changing of administrators during the process which would have added to delays.
“However, we are at the place right now where we are in the process of finalising payment, and we should be able to make all payments by the end of this month.”
She said her team had inherited the issue of late payments and had been trying to change this.
“You have to understand that the process in government is different to what a company would do: companies have shorter turnaround times, they have far less bureaucracy, far less paperwork. Trying to do business in government is already difficult. So at least for the companies, what we try to do is to institute an artiste policy where we have to ensure that before they perform, we can at least pay them some kind of down payment, a 50 per cent, and then we are able to settle the balance within a reasonable period of time for business – could be anywhere from within 30 days to 90 days, depending on who is the supplier you are dealing with.”
She said these are some of the policies the administration is trying to institute.
“It has been a little bit difficult to have it actioned however, because having the policy on paper is one thing but remember these companies also depend on subventions from the THA and if the subventions themselves are late then they themselves are not able to meet their requirements on time.
“So what we have to do is to ensure the processes within the division happen in a timely manner to allow the companies to be able to be successful.”
One complaint of the artistes and service providers was the lack of communication from the division, for which she apologised.
She said among other things, some of the invoices needed to be resubmitted, which added to the delay.
She said a THA accounting administrator would not communicate these things to the public, since that is not their job, and neither was she responsible, as “these things happen below the level of the secretary.”
However, she agreed things should not have reached a point where stakeholders felt protesting was necessary.