Expired: Where pan reach?

TT – The oil industry, which gave rise to the steelpan embraced by TT as its national instrument, may very well be its death knell as the decades-long sponsorship of bands by the last state oil company, Petrotrin, has dried up.

Less than two months after the closure of debt-riddled Petrotrin, the fallout for the cultural sector is beginning to be felt, as its successor, the Trinidad Petroleum group, will no longer sponsor three major steelbands – Hatters and Siparia Deltones out of south Trinidad, and Tobago’s Katzenjammers – as well as more than 20 community-based bands.

The tradition of state oil sponsorship of the steelpan dates back to the 1960s, when Texaco began the trend of providing large contributions to the pan fraternity, which successor companies, including Petrotrin, embraced. That convention has ended as Petrotrin, with a $13 billion debt and annual losses to the tune of $2 billion, closed on November 30, 2018.

With a reduced allocation from $30 million to $20 million for Pan Trinbago from the Government to run Panorama and businesses not willing to part with scarce resources, the fraternity is facing another setback. Wilfred Espinet is making it clear that Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd, which he chairs, will not be the “benevolent mother” to pan as Petrotrin was. Heritage, Paria Fuel Trading Co and Guaracara Refining Co fall under Trinidad Petroleum and were created to maintain the core business of oil, fuel imports, and the refinery assets.

None of these companies can afford the level of financial sponsorship of steelbands as in the past, Espinet told Business Day.

Over the years, Petrotrin has spent tens of millions of dollars on steelbands but that cannot continue, especially as Heritage seeks to become a viable entity while borrowing to service Petrotrin’s debt. As such, no band will be flying Heritage or Paria flags, nor carrying their titles, he said.

“We cannot tell our financiers we want to borrow money to give to institutions that are not going to be adding value to the process,” he said, especially now when the US stock exchange has changed dramatically that people are running away from risks.

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