December 18, 2009

Baptiste: I am the captain on this ship

by Dayle DaSilva 18.DEC.09

“Mr Peters misspoke and he mis-stepped because in the Ministry there is a structure in which we deal with these matters.”{{more}}

This is the response coming from Rene Baptiste, Minister of Culture in relation to comments made by Michael Peters, Chairman of the Nine Mornings Committee on NBC radio last Friday, December 11.

The comments made by Peters, who is also the Research Officer in the Ministry of Culture suggested that due to the reduction in funding for this year’s festival, the future of Nine Mornings looked bleak.

“It was a matter of him being premature,” Baptiste told SEARCHLIGHT.

“To say this might be the last time-you can’t make that comment,” she continued.

Baptiste added that Peters was not in a position to make such statements.

She said that the comments had raised eyebrows from persons, including the Permanent Secretary and Lennox Bowman, Treasurer of the Nine Mornings Committee.

“I admire people with a great spirit and a vision and who cooperate and ensure that the festival comes off; but every ship has one captain and on this ship, I am the captain,” Baptiste said.

The Culture Minister cleared the air saying that she had instructed the committee’s chairman to restructure the proposed budget for this year’s festival in light of what had been taking place economically.

“He submitted a budget which in my view was too expansive in the current financial situation,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.

“Even if you want to encourage community groups and deepen community spirit, you have to be considerate of the time and trim the budget to suit,” Baptiste explained.

She further explained that the festival is financed by government input and private sponsorship.

“We did not expect to have the same extent as before, given what the current economic situation is.”

“Now it is crunch time, we have to see how things are coming through,” Baptiste contended.

It has been “touch and go” with many business houses, the Culture Minister said, noting that the committee had fallen short of its anticipated target with respect to funding.

The National Lotteries Authority and VINLEC have made significant contributions to the staging of this year’s celebrations, but other usual corporate partners had indicated that due to decreased earnings throughout the year, they were unable to make contributions this year.

“We do not understand that SVG going through the same thing as the rest of the world, yet we seem to believe we are immune.”

“We are accustomed to cutting and contriving,” the Minister said, adding that her Ministry was not going to allow the festival to die.

She went back to 1999 when there were a few persons keeping the festival alive, including Bowman.

Back then, according to Baptiste, there was no input from any Ministry of Culture, no policy directive from any Minister to save Nine Mornings and that two years later, when the current administration took office, proper procedures were put in place that has allowed the festival to expand.

Baptiste assured Vincentians that matters relating to any festival, including Nine Mornings, which has a cultural content will always receive support from the Ministry and Government.

She spoke of the high cost associated with staging the festival saying that in some instances, large sums of moneys had to be given to communities now coming on board.

She singled out some of the bigger players such as the Sion Hill community which has been able to solicit their own funding or had already established partnerships with corporations.

According to Baptiste, the economic hard times were even reflected in the low numbers of community groups taking part this year.

In the past, participation had reached as high as 65 communities, this year the numbers have dwindled to about half that the Minister said.

She did however express some optimism, saying that it was usually the norm for sponsors to come on board once the festival was well underway.

Peters declined to comment on the issue when contacted.