Offer stimulus cheques to promoters, entertainers

FORMER Minister of Entertainment Damion Crawford says local promoters and entertainers are being “unfairly” treated by the Government which, he believes, should be offering stimulus cheques to stakeholders in the industry that has been badly affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It has been approximately 15 months since entertainment activities across the island have been banned, though scores of Jamaicans have breached the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) in this regard.

Crawford, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday, said that if the Government is of the view that reopening the sector is too risky then it must make accommodation for grants to those affected.

“They are unfairly treated not only because it has not been reopened because that’s not the only alternative. If it is not being reopened or cannot be reopened in the opinion of the Government, then one thing they can consider is depreciation contribution to those who own assets. So those who own sound systems, lighting and venues, for example,” the Opposition People’s National Party senator said.

“There should be, in my opinion, depreciation grants of at least 30 per cent of the asset for the time that has passed being that the average depreciation time period is five years,” he added.

His suggestion comes in the wake of the controversial staging of Mocha Fest which had scores of patrons in attendance over a week ago in Negril, Westmoreland, which left a bitter taste in the mouths of Jamaicans.

Locals were not allowed to attend the week-long festival that the Government and its agencies insist they had no knowledge of, or permitted.

The event was held despite the gathering limit, where only 15 people are allowed to converge in one space and the current ban on parties.

No one has so far been charged.

Crawford said in light of the current ban which continues to clamp the entertainment sector, the Government must, too, partner with the banking sector to offer some reprieve to stakeholders.

“I think that the Government should also put up a lump sum of funds for the bank to give special consideration to entertainment people who have a mortgage. So, therefore, that lump sum will guarantee the interest but the bank will then delay that mortgage. So instead of you ending in 2060 then you end in 2062. However, because the Government put up that guarantee of interest, the bank wouldn’t feel that it is taking on additional risk more than the asset value,” he told the Sunday Observer.

He said also revisiting his party’s proposal ahead of the September 2020 General Election, that the Government should consider subsidising the cost of electricity and water for those in the industry who are affected.

“As I have been lobbying for the longest time, I really do feel that they should do the $4,000 per month for electricity and water. So at least you could get that minimum activity and expense to the entertainment ecosystem — not just the entertainer or the promoter but the entire ecosystem. Those who are employed to bar services; those who are employed to lighting and other areas should be guaranteed some contribution to light and water.

“If you want to do it one time as $48,000 for the year or monthly towards the utility I believe that that would help if it cannot be reopened,” the businessman said.

He has suggested that a one per cent reduction in the Government’s surplus target will allow for the availability of $2 billion.

“So if the Government changes its surplus target, $2 billion will be available and a great sum of that would help the industry greatly,” he said.

Last September, Minister of Entertainment Olivia Grange announced that the ministry would be providing COVID-19 response grants amounting to $40 million to the entertainment, culture and arts sectors.

While noting the importance of these sectors to economic recovery post-COVID, Grange said: “This is a time of adversity but inherent in it is an opportunity for the players in these sectors to become certified, formalised and for our associations to build capacity. I am confident that once this is over, we will see an art and entertainment industry that is more structured, more organised and more cohesive.”

Local promoters have told the Sunday Observer that they are not aware that this was done.

Meanwhile, Crawford said the Government is “exaggerating” the risk that is associated with the opening of the entertainment sector.

He said that most entertainment is community-specific.

“The average entertainment activity — the round robins and so on — are community-specific. In fact, they don’t advertise. So if you look at the reality that in 2014 you had over 24,00 places of amusement licence, less than 20 per cent of those advertised on radio and when they advertise on the Internet it is really to their friends. So the fact that most entertainment is community-specific there’s limited cross-community interaction if it is not a major event.

“Therefore, I believe that we can mitigate some of these issues by keeping the numbers to less than 200. Entertainment activity is dependent on numbers to be profitable… because it is dependent on crowd, I believe tracking is the answer more so than constraints. If 200 people can go I think that they should register their telephone number in a special system and then if anyone shows up outside of that there is automatically a red flag…,” he said.

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