Montserrat masquerades at St. Patrick's Day 2018 by Nia Golden

Auditor General Report Highlights Gaps in St. Patrick’s Festival Operations

The Office of the Auditor General has released The Montserrat St. Patrick’s Festival: Efficiency and Effectiveness of its Management, which was presented to the Legislative Assembly on September 28, 2021. The report highlights a history of overspending, lax documentation and no clear plan for increasing revenue streams or financing the annual event which has grown from a one-day event to the island’s most popular festival. However, it does provide data of the increased spending of visitors and the tourism numbers for the island.

The Festival, whose long history predates the volcanic crisis of 1995, began as a one-day celebration. In March 2012, the St. Patrick Day Association was registered as a Friendly Society to manage the Festival. In recent years, the Festival grew to two weeks, with an increasing number and diversity of events & activities, drawing thousands of visitors to Montserrat, and becoming the largest item on the local social cultural calendar.

Key Findings of the report:
(1) The SPDA’s performance has improved, but there is still much scope to improve its performance, recordkeeping, and reporting. Tourist arrivals doubled (years 2011 to 2019), and the number of tourists in March nearly tripled (years 2015 to 2019). (See Chapter 4.) However, patrons & stakeholders have many complaints about limited access to Montserrat, passengers’ unpleasant travel experiences to and from the island, inadequate service amenities at ports/airport, and inadequate amenities and infrastructure at the Festival’s venues.

(2) Since its inception, the SPDA has repeatedly failed to comply with its statutory obligations. The Financial Services Commission has written to the SPDA about its non-compliance every year since it was registered in March, 2012. The SPDA failed to submit Annual Returns of its membership, of its assets, and of its performance. (See Chapter 2.) Despite receiving large public grants each year, the SPDA never hired an external auditor, nor has it published annual reports or audited financial statements.

(3) The SPDA uses volunteers to fill critical posts; it has several gaps in the process for appointing and managing officers. The SPDA’s Management Committee comprises five volunteers, who receive a stipend for their three to four months of work prior to the Festival.
Unpaid volunteers comprise all other committees and sub-committees. Historically, most persons were political appointees. We found no documented policy for the appointment or assessment of members of any of these committees, nor evidence of oversight by the Trustees.

(4) The SPDA depends almost entirely on public grants and private sponsorship. Despite nearly a decade of existence, the SPDA earns very little revenue from its activities. Several of the Festival’s events and activities are free of charge to the public. The GOM is the biggest source of the SPDA’s funding: a grant of at least EC$200,000 per year since year 2016. Almost all of the Festival’s revenues go to private promotors, who are the risk-takers in developing, in promoting, and in delivering most of the island’s events during the two-week Festival Calendar.  From year 2017 to year 2019, on average, at least 89% of the SPDA’s annual budget was funded by the GOM under the OP through the MAC with 11% from private funding or donations.

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(5) The GOM has oversight of the SPDA’s budget and annual spending, but the SPDA has incurred deficits. Since 2018, the Office of the Premier, through the Montserrat Arts Council, reviews the SPDA’s budgets yearly and controls disbursements for the SPDA. The SPDA’s actual receipts were often less than its budgeted revenues, and actual expenses regularly exceeded its actual revenues.

The report notes that the SPDA does not maintain formal registers or databases of promotors, entertainers, contractors, and other stakeholders. “By contrast, we found that the Tourism Division maintains a registry of hotels, guesthouses, and rented villas. However, there is no established mechanism for the accreditation of persons hosting events or holding activities during the Festival, nor any rigorous and objective evaluation of the quality of events/activities themselves. Perspectives of standards and expectations remain largely informal and anecdotal. Over the years, most of the communication has been done verbally and informally.”

Key Recommendations:
(1) Improve the SPDA’s coordination with other partners in the marketing and growth of the Festival.
(2) Ensure that the SPDA meets all of its statutory obligations, including audits.
(3) Broaden the scope for feedback from the public/stakeholders; communicate through multiple channels.
(4) Clearly define, measure, & assess objectives for the Festival each year, & link them to the Policy Agenda.
(5) Develop a strategic approach to marketing, sponsorship, and relations with stakeholders.

The full audit report highlights several other findings and recommendations. Their implementation will bring significant improvements in the management of the Festival and its long-term contributions to Montserrat’s tourism and economy.

PERFORMANCE AUDIT – St Patrick’s Festival Final Report July 2021
The report in its entirety can also be found at the Montserrat Public Library or by requesting an electronic copy from the Office of the Auditor General, located upstairs Angelo’s Complex, Brades. E-mail: audit@gov.ms ; Telephone: (664) 491 – 3460 or 491 – 4569.