The inaugural Hearts of Steel Concert, April 2012 – Aquatic Club
Our Readers' Opinions
June 7, 2018

Marla Nanton
On behalf of the former Pan Management Committee

Now that the dust has settled and my mission is complete, I officially say farewell to South East Steel Orchestra (SESO), a subsidiary of South East Development Incorporated (SEDI).

When I arrived on the scene as Music Director of SESO in September 2011, I was scared by what I saw, a skeleton of an orchestra. A significant portion of the players who had been with the orchestra since its inception in 2008 had migrated, some to Georgetown All Stars, following SEDI’s decision to dismiss my predecessor, Tillal Webb. To “Save South East” was the mantra on which my invitation was based.

The task at hand seemed mammoth. I was but a young female entering a male dominated domain. Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves and fearlessly commenced work. Seven months after my arrival (April 2012) SESO staged its first “Hearts of Steel” show, established as the orchestra’s signature event to motivate players to work hard, lift their self-esteem and to help build the image of the orchestra. At that time, SESO players were so few, members of Potential Steel Orchestra were invited to beef up some of the sections of the orchestra for Hearts of Steel 2012. The show was well received and SESO continued to blossom.

SESO’s bloom became evident on the national stage, particularly between 2013 and 2017, during which time the orchestra significantly improved its performance in the National Panorama Competition, recording only 2nd and 3rd place victories. Although SESO never won, “the band from Stubbs” developed a reputation as “the band to look out for”. For Panorama 2017, SESO presented the largest contingent of 70 and exclusively Vincy!

On the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, U.S.A – August 2016

By 2014, the number of orchestral engagements all-year-round had rapidly increased and SEDI, the parent body, saw the need to formalize a Pan Management Committee (PMC) to handle the affairs of SESO. This committee, headed by Cecil Ryan, consisted of persons with a vested interest in SESO: 2 members of the SEDI executive, the Music Director and a few parents. Under the PMC, sponsorship of SESO increased from $5000 EC per year to a value exceeding $30, 000 per year. Following negotiations on behalf of SEDI, the PMC was able to secure $10,000 USD per year from Winfresh (local agent Vincyfresh). The committee also established strong relations with local business entities and individual contributors, all credited with the rise in status of SESO.

In 2016, the PMC in consultation with the then SEDI executive, headed by Rosita Snagg, embraced an opportunity for international exposure. A contingent of 15 players represented the orchestra on Martha’s Vineyard, an exclusive tourist destination off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. This turned into a festered sore. Though the committee had raised considerable funds towards financing the trip, because of uncontrollable delays in acquiring visas and airline tickets, the cost of the trip exceeded the budget. As a result, members of the PMC in consultation with the SEDI executive, headed by Mrs. Snagg, provided emergency loans to realize the trip. This trip cost around 70,000, raised mainly from donations. Some players made contributions, while others made none, since they or their parents had no means to have done so.

The 2017 Panorama presentation of “Pan Jam”

Many believed that the Martha’s Vineyard trip was an unachievable feat, including SEDI executive members, but the realization of the trip spoke volumes of the PMC! It was not enough for 4 or 5 players who already had U.S visas to go to Martha’s Vineyard; the carpenter, the labourer and the committed little boy from up the hill deserved the experience too!

In January 2017, the PMC secured a grant of $35,000 which was used to replenish the orchestra (pans, racks, wheels) and purchase a set of rhythm instruments, for which all receipts and records were produced to the then President, Rosita Snagg.

So if the Music Director and the PMC achieved so much with SESO, why then did SEDI dismiss her for “unsatisfactory performance as Music Director”, as well as the PMC for “violation of the SEDI constitution and guidelines”? Clearly, something ‘een ah de martar besides de pistle!

The PMC was working well until the current SEDI executive, under Yoland London, was instituted in June 2017. Several conflicting issues surfaced and spiraled into a poisonous web of SEDI executive against the PMC:

Although a full account was given of the Martha’s Vineyard trip, the reimbursement of emergency funds to PMC members helped to sour the relationship between the current SEDI executive and the PMC, such that when this new executive took over, they were reluctant to refund PMC members their monies. It took almost two years of back and forth before the PMC members were repaid in full. The final payment was made with a SEDI cheque dated April 27 2018.

The recurring lack of discipline, particularly among a minority group of “foundation players”; who have, at different times, walked in and out of the band, threatened the stability of the orchestra in recent times. These players have manipulated situations when it suits their interests. As a result, the PMC pushed for the settlement and acceptance of a set of rules to govern the operation of the orchestra. This was a constant struggle with the current SEDI executive, one that was never resolved.

SEDI’s decision to divide players into tiers based on their areas of residency was another problematic issue. This meant that players from within the South East geographic boundaries would have been offered the status of “full members” and would have enjoyed privileges (voting, traveling, etc.) that players from outside the boundaries could not enjoy. The PMC openly voiced its dissatisfaction with this idea based on the composition of the orchestra and the commitment of “foreign” players versus “local” ones.

The straw that really broke the camel’s back came in February 2018. Members of the SEDI Executive ordered the curtailment of all pan related activities and later advised the PMC that the orchestra would not participate in Panorama 2018. The executive informed of this on two occasions, at a meeting on Friday, February 9 between members of the SEDI executive and members of the PMC, and the other on Wednesday February 21 among members of the SEDI executive, members of the PMC and players of SESO. The decision was also communicated via an email to Cecil Ryan (Chair/PMC). The SEDI executive had taken the decision that the band would not participate in Panorama due to two reasons:

1. Lack of funding: This was surprising to the PMC as two SEDI executive members (President Yoland London and committee member Claire Harry), along with members of the PMC, had met with Mr. Bernard Cornibert, CEO of WINFRESH, in August 2017. In that meeting, which took place at the Mariners’ Inn at Villa, Mr. Cornibert committed WINFRESH to adopting the band and he expressed his company’s willingness and readiness to funding the 2018 Panorama campaign, in particular.

2. SEDI had been struck off CIPO’s register, rendering it “illegal to transact business”: Members of the PMC advised SEDI that the organization could still operate while its legal status was sorted. However, the president responded that the signatories on SEDI’s account were not comfortable signing cheques and would sign no cheques to allow for Panorama preparation. However, there are two known cases in which cheques were subsequently signed and issued by the said signatories. Additionally, in an attempt to keep the organization going, Cecil Ryan of the PMC offered to assist in getting an accountant to have SEDI’s books rectified, however SEDI declined the offer. The accountant, a senior partner in a well-known and respectable auditing firm in SVG had committed himself to undertaking the assignment free of cost to SEDI. To date, SEDI’s legal status has not be rectified. Does this mean that SEDI is now conducting business illegally?

The inaugural Hearts of Steel Concert, April 2012 – Aquatic Club

Given that players were generally excited and committed to playing for the 2018 Panorama competition and given further that volunteers on the PMC were showing the usual commitment and interest, and were excited to serve, the PMC made the conscious decision to continue practising, fully aware of the bigger mission to keep the band active and alive. The orchestra fulfilled performance requests and plans were well on the way for Panorama 2018 up to the end of April.

As a resolution to the CIPO situation, the PMC officially registered SESO in the interest of keeping the players engaged and facilitating entrance in Panorama 2018. Between February (the complete breakdown between SEDI and the PMC) and April (Registration of SESO), all financial transactions were facilitated by the Youlou Pan Movement on the orchestra’s behalf, so as to avoid the involvement of any individual’s name/bank account. The PMC felt that the band should not have been made to suffer due to SEDI’s negligence and personal interests.

In reaction to the situation, SEDI dismissed the entire PMC, along with the Music Director. Moreover, all the pans, situated in the practice area were packed up in the storage room. SEDI barred entrance to the pan room, denying an eager set of players access to the building, by replacing all the locks on the pan room. Players turned up for practice on Wednesday May 2 and again on Thursday May 3 (some with their parents) and could only congregate under the shed in disappointment, while another set of unruly players who seemed to have been prompted by SEDI, jovially humiliated the players who were locked out.

After all is said and done, the dismissal of the PMC appears unfortunate. Ninety (90) % of SESO players have turned their backs on the orchestra (some have sought asylum in other bands), Winfresh sponsorship seems no more and the question lingers: “What was SEDI’s real motive?” The public has been asking and it seems the most SEDI can say is that Marla Nanton, Cecil Ryan and other members of the PMC are thieves. Shame on you SEDI! Every member of the PMC’s situation is well and secure financially, you know this. Perhaps your energies should be invested in accountability and transparency. So long South East, until we meet again!

As for Marla Nanton and the PMC, we have no intentions of quitting, stay tuned! In the meantime, I would like to, on behalf of my PMC colleagues, to thank the players, their parents and guardians and all those who supported our journey to success and anticipate your continued support in the future.