Over the last three years, both the downturn of our economy and the significant loss of government revenues from the energy sector have led to a concerted effort at fiscal consolidation. These efforts included reductions in government expenditure as well as efforts to raise revenues; there have also been attempts to, where possible, maintain low levels of debt as well as to reduce debt creation.
Certainly, the decision to shut down Petrotrin and restructure the company is a case in point. Government appears to have taken a decision to ensure that all state entities do not operate at a loss or require government financing. Readers must remember that the estimates of Government revenue from the TT energy sector for the 2013-14 financial year were set at $21.223 billion; this fell to under $2 billion in the last fiscal year.
One of the expenditure items that have been negatively affected by the downturn in the economy has been the funding of culture. Indeed, for this Carnival season this issue has been raised, with some calypso tents fearing closure because of lack of funding. Unlike some other types of economic activity, funding of cultural activity is very different.
Culture is considered the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc of a people, that are transferred, communicated, or passed along, to succeeding generations. It is at the core of our rich heritage and history and has an important role in enhancing the attractiveness of our country and strengthening our unique identity. Culture and creativity are important drivers and enablers of innovation, as well as can be an important source for entrepreneurship, and must be seen as a key driver for increasing tourism revenue, with cultural tourism being one of the largest and fastest growing tourism segments worldwide. Culture also has an important role to play in promoting social inclusion.
Much depends on what exactly our country wants to grow, how its key players explain culture, how they see its development model and the objectives of the cultural policy. There is no single correct model in the world. Despite its “incorruptibility”, culture does not grow in a vacuum – its phenomena contain the crystals of accumulated experience and bacilli of all its unresolved problems.
This raises the issue of the impact on our local culture as a result of a reduction in government funding. Such a move should best be made within the ambit of a national plan. While reduction in expenditure in line with a reduction in revenue is understandable, a plan must be put in place to deal with cultural expression. This has to involve communicating with the national community the need to tackle cultural funding whilst indicating that government revenues can no longer be the sole source of funding, identifying alternatives to this and urging stakeholders to develop business models for their activities and providing them with assistance. Of course, this means not just a business plan but assisting with developing sound and acceptable accounting.
It is important that we also identify a number of funding methods that have been applied around the world which should be explored. Some of these include the establishment of foundations targeted to fund the arts and partially supported by the State, the partial funding of culture through the use of a specific excise tax on alcohol and tobacco, and taxes on gambling and lottery, cultural bonds, crowd funding, tax emptions for business entities directly funding culture and the use of lotteries to fund sporting and cultural events. The collaboration between the State and the private sector is urgently needed here. A national plan will also require standards to be set to ensure profitability of the new business models. There is urgent need to develop an economic plan to fund cultural expression. Society will suffer greatly if this is not urgently addressed.