The Cayman Music and Entertainment Association thinks government should establish a standard process of selecting entertainers for publicly funded functions overseas.
The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism recently paid Swanky Kitchen Band to play events in Panama and New York City, with expenditures for the Panama performance totalling nearly $19,000, out of the $71,500 spent on the entire trip.
“It is definitely long overdue and such a process is in particular needed now as it appears that these opportunities are always being given to the same bands and individuals. Unfortunately, but usually, these bands have professional ties to the CI government as some of the members are senior civil servants and without such a process their continual selection is understandably perceived by their peers as a conflict of interest,” reads a statement from the association.
Swanky members said they don’t see a conflict of interest in some of them being public servants and they support the association’s call for a procurement procedure. They said the department has picked them to perform at events because of their professionalism and musicianship and because of the style of music they play.
Swanky violinist Samuel Rose is deputy chief officer of financial services at the Ministry of Finance. Drummer Daniel Augustine is the Cayman Islands men’s basketball coach. Guitarist Nicholas Johnson works for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. The other nine members who went to Panama are not government employees.
According to an e-mail from the band, “[T]hese civil servants were musicians since childhood – long before they worked for government and will continue to be musicians long after their public service careers have ended.
“This question also appears to be an attempt to add an element of scandal where none exists.”
The band said many civil servants have businesses outside their regular jobs, which is permissible as long as the business interest is declared and is not in direct conflict with their government work.
“Furthermore, why should special consideration be given to the band’s selection simply because a few band members are also civil servants,” according to the band, which said members took personal vacation days to perform in Panama.
The association, which had not taken a public position on government procurement until after being approached by the Caymanian Compass, specified that while it could readily assist the department in making opportunities known to local musicians, it is not demanding that it be positioned as the middle man between government and musicians. Rather, the association is in favour of some sort of process being established.
The department did not identify a written procedure for selecting bands to perform at its events.
Department spokeswoman Gina Matthews said, “[W]e needed a hook in order to bring out the top travel agents in Panama in order to excite and educate them about our destination. In a relatively short time period the concept was to host these travel agents with some bites to eat and to have traditional Caymanian music as well as some pirates and carnival models to help to outline our national festivals, as Panamanians are very interested in those sorts of exciting revelry,” she said.
She said, “Understanding the vision for the night and the goals with limited timing, we went with the band that was able to play kitchen band music as we wanted traditional Caymanian music with a contemporary feel, which was needed to keep the audience captivated.”
The association said it was not contacted about the Panama event, nor was it contacted before the department hired Swanky to play in New York City during Caribbean Week in June.
The Caymanian Compass has filed an open records request regarding the department’s expenses on events and performers since July 2011.
The department has released a list of events and performers since July 2011, although with no expenses attached.
According to the list, the department engaged the following bands and performers since then: Brown Sugar band, Michael Lemay Steelband, Los Tropicanos, CayNRG, Andy Martin, Raymond Scott, Coral Cowboys, The Jammers, Local Motion, Hi-Tide Band, KRI Performing Arts School, Cayman Traditional Arts, Randy Cholette, Nasaria Suckoo-Cholette and Jevaughnie Ebanks.
Besides Swanky, the only bands on the list the department engaged to play overseas are Local Motion - which played in Cuba in July 2011 - and CayNRG - which played in Tampa, Florida, in January 2012. Those bands also include public servants.
The department spent nearly $71,500 on the 28-31 March, 2012, trip involving 43 delegates and guests to celebrate the launch of the Cayman Airways route to Panama City. More than one quarter of that – $18,714 – was spent on the 12 members of Swanky (including 10 performers, an engineer and a sound technician) to perform during the Cayman Night event.
The department spent about $8,900 on plane flights for Swanky. Only the engineer travelled with the delegation on the Cayman Airways flight to Panama, at a cost of $331. The rest of Swanky travelled to Panama via Miami, with two tickets costing $890 each and nine tickets costing $749 each. Those 11 people flew Cayman Airways to Miami, American Airlines to Panama, and Cayman Airways back to Cayman.
The band said the different flights were necessary because they weren’t hired until two or three weeks before the trip, and members already had business and personal commitments.
“The only way we could perform was if we could depart the day before the event,” according to the band.
Other bands created embarrassment
In addition to travel costs and hotel expenses, which totalled about $2,000 for six rooms, the department paid Swanky a performance fee and per diem of $7,775, which the department and the band said is lower than the band’s typical performance fee.
The band said, “If [Cayman Free Press] wishes to hire Swanky to perform, then we’ll be happy to discuss rates. Our rates are in line with the industry standard for a showband with professional musicians.”
Members of Swanky said they support the association’s call for the establishment of a process for government to hire entertainers.
“It is encouraging to hear that CMEA under its new president is maturing and is now seeking to focus on improving the standards of musicianship in the Cayman Islands,” according to the band.
“Too often, bands have been hired for important national and international events and have created embarrassment for the jurisdiction and the music fraternity because of their misbehaviour, poor preparation and inexcusably poor musicianship,” the band said.
“Neither should the selection process as called for by CMEA serve as a cloak of convenience for mediocrity. It is a fact of life that no matter what process government creates in the future, there will be bands that get chosen more often than others. Furthermore, until the overall standard improves, many local musicians will not be able to demand fair market value for their services,” according to the band.
The association, meanwhile, said the standard fees for live music in Cayman are $100 to $150 per hour per musician, with a minimum $200 appearance fee per musician, not including expenses. The association believes those rates are also “fair and equitable” for bands contracted by the government to play overseas.