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In terms of transparency and accountability, an important national event is flying under the radar of public scrutiny and the veil of secrecy covering its financial records is as thick as a brick.

The World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) is one of Dominica’s biggest cultural events and international drawing cards. As soon as the last drum beat fades, the local organizers usually hail the event as a success, but year after year they are suspiciously cagey about the event’s financial records. The public is getting mighty uneasy about the possible reasons why so few eyes ever get to see the WCMF’s annual balance sheets.

This uneasiness is reflected in an incisive letter in this week’s issue of The Chronicle. The writer raises legitimate concerns about the continuous lack of any public declaration of the WCMF’s profits and losses. As the writer points out, the WCMF is a national event that benefits significantly from taxpayers’ money, so the details its revenue and expenses should be made public each year, and in a timely manner.

However, as this newspaper can attest, it is notoriously difficult for the media to get any information about the festival’s financial record from the organisers. By all accounts, media operatives daring enough to ask for information regarding the event’s profits and losses is sure to run into a code of silence that is as impenetrable as the rock face of Morne Diablotin.

It is a national disgrace that the financial record of the WCMF is hidden from the eyes of the public who invest so heavily in it, support it so passionately and have such high expectations of its contribution to the nation. How much money the event makes or loses, and who benefits or loses, are important determinants of the festival’s overall value to the people of Dominica. If the festival is for the people, then they have a right to know if they are indeed benefiting and by how much.

If the WCMF is a truly national event, then it has an overarching responsibility to benefit Dominica as whole, not just small special-interest groups. It receives substantial public subsidies because it is expected to fulfill certain national interests and reach specific national goals. The event’s balance sheets have to be subject to national disclosure; otherwise the public cannot assess the extent to which it is benefiting the nation, or a select few.

The public has a right to see the details of the WCMF’s attendance record and gate receipts; marketing and publicity costs; performers’ fees; payments for utilities and equipment; and emoluments to contractors and organizers. There must also be a public record of sponsors” contributions, the infusion of public funds and tax concessions; and whether the entire event was profitable or not, and by what margins.

It seems to be quite inappropriate to call the WCMF a ‘national heritage event’ if the public has little or no knowledge of how its financial affairs are being handled. As it stands now, the public does not know the extent to which any profits from the festival filter down to the man-in-the-street, or the extent to which any losses are directly or indirectly absorbed by the public.

The public has a right to hold the organisers of the WCMF to the highest standards of accountability and transparency regarding the event’s financial records. Unless this is done, the organizers should not be entitled to any subsidies or concessions derived from taxpayers’ money.

This article was published in the Editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper – July 11th, 2008.

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