DR RITA PEMBERTON
The staging of the Ring Bang concert assumed great importance to the THA organisers because it was an international deal that appeared to be financially viable. It was an event for which the intellectual property rights were seen as a potential billion-dollar industry and some were of the view there would also be broadcast rights from the show. It was an investment which offered the highly desired and much needed, financial returns and was visualised as salvation from the squeeze of the tight-fisted central government. The investment partner promised that some of the returns would accrue from the 20,000 patrons whose attendance was assured and, in addition, local participation would be facilitated through an undertaking to shuttle people from Trinidad with the domestic carriers.
The concert was supposed to be a part of the BBC/WGHB 2000 today Millennium Day live 24-hour global broadcast which was scheduled to begin at 10.30 am on December 31, 1999. The agreement also guaranteed that the island would receive a 39-minute feature on the BBC which would be beamed globally and showcase Tobago and its culture and that of the wider Caribbean, which would redound with benefits to the island’s and region’s tourism sector. A children’s Ring Bang segment was billed to start the proceedings.
For this the THA would pay US$6.65 million ($40.9 million) to New Media Ltd, the company which was owned by Eddie Grant, with an expectation that the cost would be defrayed by corporate sponsorship and the anticipated returns from broadcast rights across the region. The event was heavily criticised on the island by individuals who were very concerned about the previously costly ADDA fiasco and were strongly opposed to the island’s allocation being expended in another risky venture. The concert supporters paid no heed to these dissenting voices, so confident were they that the event would be a resounding success.
Given the hype and the build up to the concert with the hoisting of the monument, it promised to be a grand Old Year’s Night affair and nothing – not even a bomb threat made before the show started – was allowed to disrupt the evening’s proceedings. However, without the assistance of the bomb prankster, what happened on that night was a disaster of major proportions. The promised 20,000 attendees never arrived and instead there was a paltry attendance of about 1,500 patrons. This was a clear index that expected financial returns were not going to be forthcoming. But worse was yet to come for the looming clouds of disaster were about to burst.
The early signs of poor organisation were manifested when the Children’s Ring Bang concert was hastily cancelled and the children were only informed when they arrived to rehearse for their 10.30 am appearance. The main concert was also marred by mismanagement which dissatisfied the guest artistes. Eddy Grant was the main feature and there were limited appearances by: Shadow, who expected but was not allowed to sing four songs; Machel Montano (who was introduced as David Rudder) was given a minute or two and it was the last stage on which Lord Kitchener performed before his death on February 11, 2000. Shadow was openly critical of the arrangements and some other Caribbean artistes who were allocated a shorter performance time than was expected, complained about the dishonesty of the organisers. Both artistes and patrons were disappointed. The disaster clouds had burst spreading odium on the organisers of the show.
The event attracted very caustic attention across the nation as it provided fodder for the media in editorials, letters to the editor and commentaries and commanded the attention of the nation’s parliamentarians and calypsonians. One newspaper article described the concert as “an unqualified fiasco” which cost taxpayers $40.9 million and the Chief Secretary, was accused of “one-manship,” “financial adventurism” and “lack of accountability”. During discussions on the matter in the Upper House, some Senators condemned the “exuberant excesses of Mr (Hochoy) Charles” while others called for a repeal of the THA Act. In the Lower House, MP for Tobago West Pamela Nicholson gave a lengthy presentation on 14 January 14, 2000. She said the Chief Secretary and his Executive Council were “duped” by Eddy Grant and his company, New Media Limited, into believing that the Tobago segment of the show would be beamed for 39 minutes and would stimulate Tobago’s tourism. She lamented the poor organisation of the show and the fact that Tobago was never once mentioned on the BBC television coverage. She explained that one of the BBC’s public relations consultants, who attended the event, cleared his organisation of culpability in what was a misconceived expectation of BBC coverage, when he revealed that all arrangements were made with the Caribbean Broadcasting Union and his organisation had conducted no business with the THA.
There were other instances of confusion of expectation as some in the THA claimed that sponsors would defray some of the cost of the event (which was not forthcoming) and that returns from broadcast rights from other Caribbean television units were expected. This was strongly denied by the public relations consultant to the show’s organiser who said that no such arrangement was made. In addition, Nicholson revealed that the final cost of the exercise was more than the $40.9 million that was paid to the company because the THA also had to meet the cost of shipping the stage to and from Tobago and the expenses of technicians who were brought to perform the various aspects of stage preparation and management. She condemned the expenditure as a “crazy reckless investment” of the last quarterly funding of the THA and asserted that “we in Tobago believe that this reckless spending of $40.9 million of public funds demands urgent investigation, especially when one considers that it comes on the heels of the $12.5 million ADDA scandal.” She continued that there was a need to “expose the secrecy and non-transparency that surrounds the investment aspect of the Tobago House of Assembly and let there be accountability to the people now.”
The chorus of outcry against the costly event which deprived the people of the island, reverberated around Tobago. It was the topic of the horrified public at gatherings in town and rural areas, in the work and market place. Contributors to call-in radio programmes were particularly vociferous in their expressions of abhorrence of the event which despite its onerous cost, was of no benefit to Tobago. While its partner enjoyed the double rewards of the up-front payment and the ongoing copyright payments, Tobago was deprived of the services the $40.9 million could have provided, and the THA is yet to settle the still outstanding $180,000 payment to the company for the material, fabrication, shipping and installation of the monument. In addition, the ruling part suffered a severe erosion of its political support base.
Tobago’s calypsonians expressed popular sentiments with their hard-hitting calypsoes which criticised the THA investment policies. Umilta Roberts Henry, in her calypso lambasted “John Boulay,” for the “$12 million he fling away and $14 million more today” which was “money from we poverty-stricken table.” In her dynamic composition ADDA ADDA RING BANG, Lady B (Beulah Bobb) castigated the squandermania of the Hochoy Charles administration when “we invested in a world beat, packed with empty seats" and "Hochoy give we waste, waste, waste” of millions of dollars.
This sounded the death knell of the NAR. Some are of the view that Lady B’s calypso played an important role in the demise of the party and she is revered as the Tobagonian who unseated a Tobago-based political party. Despite its manifesto programme which outlined a development plan for all the villages in Tobago, the final showers of the disaster cloud fertilised the unpopularity of the THA ruling party, which crescendoed with the ultimate disaster – NAR lost the January 29, 2001 THA election which swept the PNM into office.