Special report: The president of the Haiti FA was once feted by Fifa, but a Guardian investigation led to him being handed a life ban over allegations of the sexual abuse of young female players

Everyone still calls it “the ranch”. Situated in Croix-des-Bouquets, one of Port-au-Prince’s poorest suburbs and where Wyclef Jean spent his formative years, the Centre Technique National was once a country mansion where Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier hosted his wedding reception in 1980 at a reported cost of $5m.

Having allegedly diverted money from US humanitarian aid to finance the development of the sport that helped Haiti qualify the 1974 World Cup, Duvalier was the first to build a football pitch at the site now known as the Fifa Goal Centre. Nowadays the centre it houses up to 200 young players, most of them the best prospects in Haiti. It was a power base for Yves Jean-Bart, the man who ruled Haitian football for 20 years until, in November 2020, he was banned for life by Fifa following a Guardian investigation detailing allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of young female players.

The 73-year-old has consistently denied the claims, which were first made in the Guardian at the end of April, and said that he intends to appeal against Fifa’s decision at the court of arbitration for sport. Just one day before the Fifa judgment, Haiti prosecutors said they had cleared Jean-Bart, but under pressure from the US embassy, they are reopening the case. And there is finally some optimism that Jean-Bart’s rule at the centre is over. But still, some shadows are hanging over the ranch.

In February 1972 Jean-Bart was part of a group that formed AS Tigresses, one of Haiti’s first female football clubs. In those days he was a trainee doctor and sports journalist in his mid-20s, already known by his nickname “Dadou”. According to a report in the Haiti Tempo newspaper, Jean-Bart initially used the nickname as a pseudonym as he defied his father’s request that he should leave journalism following a controversial match report which led to his father receiving abuse from disgruntled fans. The Tigresses have gone on to become one of Haiti’s most successful clubs – they won six national titles in a row between 2013 and 2018. The club also has a volleyball team that competes in the national league.

While also working as a doctor – he qualified in 1973 – Jean-Bart became an influential figure in Haiti football thanks to his career as a radio presenter, working for stations Nationale and Métropole among others. He became vice-president of the Fédération Haïtienne De Football (FHF), Haiti’s football association, in 1991, automatically gaining him Fifa membership. He was elected FHF president in 2000 a few weeks after Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, won his second term in office.

“Dadou was always very charismatic and was already friends with everyone,” says Haitian journalist Pierre Richard Midy, now living in exile. “He was very popular on the radio and used to come up with lots of new ideas for the federation when he was vice-president. It was very easy for him to convince ‘the club’ that he was the right person to become the next president so it was no surprise when that happened.”

In April 2002 a ceremony was held to mark the completion of the first phase of the new Fifa Goal Centre in Croix-des-Bouquets, including an administrative office, an auditorium with seating for 300 and a dormitory for up to 32 players in 16 air-conditioned rooms. According to Fifa’s press release at the time Jack Warner, president of Concacaf, the governing body for football in North and Central America, described the centre as “an integral aspect of Fifa president Joseph S. Blatter’s vision, intended to level the international playing field”.

Warner also “assured the gathering that the Goal-financed centre will allow Haiti to recapture some of its past football glories”. 
The FHF was one of the first national bodies to receive direct funding from the programme, created by Blatter a year after he had succeeded João Havelange as president. It is estimated that the FHF was given around $1.2m towards construction of the centre over the next eight years, although the majority of funding and the donation of the land itself came from the Haitian government.

But while the men’s team failed to qualify for Concacaf’s flagship competition, the Gold Cup, until 2007, Jean-Bart continued to strengthen his position at the helm of the FHF and to develop close relationships with various local club presidents.
 “Between 2004 and 2008 in his second mandate, everything started,” says Midy. “Most of the clubs were struggling for money so it was easy for him to do favours to help the owners and there was a lot of corruption. In his third mandate, things got even worse – and then there was the earthquake.”

A spokesman for Jean-Bart told us: “It should be obvious that Dr Jean-Bart successfully fulfilled the requirements of his job because the position of federation president required him to maintain close relationships with club presidents, and he did so in full compliance with the appropriate rules and regulations.”

Haiti’s under-17 girls’ team were training at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince when tragedy struck on 12 January 2010. Their coach, Jean-Yves Labaze, who was described as “like a father” to most of the team, was killed by falling rubble as he attended meetings at the FHF’s headquarters nearby, with Jean-Bart later being described as one of only two survivors. “We’ll never know exactly how many [we] lost,” he told journalist Joshua Robinson.

Some, including Midy, cast doubt on Jean-Bart’s claims about the scale of the disaster. But asked about this Jean-Bart’s spokesman said: “When the federation building collapsed, more than 20 people died inside it that day, with the president narrowly escaping and suffering injuries that still affect him today. The Guardian should be ashamed for questioning the humanitarian disaster in Haiti and the devastating impact and trauma of the earthquake on its people and football program.”

An immediate $250,000 grant from world football’s governing body was reported to have been paid to the FHF, with Jean-Bart telling Sports Illustrated that Fifa was intending to set up a $3m fund “which it will manage, to help rebuild the sport’s infrastructure”. Sports Illustrated reported that Warner, the head of Concacaf, “pledged $100,000 of his personal fortune” and that “Chung Mong-joon, a Fifa vice president from South Korea, added $500,000.”

In 2015, having already been arrested in connection with corruption and money laundering charges, Warner was accused by US investigators of diverting $750,000 in emergency funds donated by Fifa and the Korean Football Association that had been intended for victims in Haiti, a charge he denied.

Four years earlier, Caribbean football was caught up in a bribery scandal after Fifa’s ethics committee ruled that each of the 25 Concacaf association chiefs were made or offered cash gifts of $40,000 by Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam to back his bid for the presidency. Fifa issued bans ranging between seven days and two years to 10 Caribbean officials. Jean-Bart was one of a group given a warning, with Warner resigning before the investigation was complete. Jean-Bart replaced him as the acting president of the Caribbean Football Union before Gordon Derrick took over in 2012.

In February 2020 – two weeks after he was re-elected as FHF president for the sixth time, as the only candidate – Jean-Bart received a letter from Gianni Infantino that had been hand-signed “Cher Yves” by the Fifa president. Fifa’s statutes recommend that national federation presidents should serve a maximum of three terms, but Infantino was gushing in his congratulations.
 A Fifa spokesperson explained later that it recommends to all member associations the introduction of terms limits in line with its statutes “however this is not an obligation”. He added: “It is standard practice to congratulate all duly elected president of member associations.”

Infantino certainly did that. “Your re-election represents a vote of confidence in your abilities on the part of the Haitian football community,” he wrote. “I am convinced that your rich experience, knowledge and personal qualities will have a significant impact on the further development of our sport in your country over the coming years … We look forward to seeing you again soon and congratulating you face to face, I ask you to believe, dear President, dear Yves, in the assurance of my most cordial feelings.”

But as Jean-Bart took the plaudits the Guardian was learning of some allegations that ultimately forced Fifa to drastically recast its attitude to Jean-Bart. They alleged that Jean-Bart been had been abusing young female players and referees at the centre. Over several months the Guardian gathered together harrowing stories from alleged victims. Under condition of anonymity due to fear of violent reprisals, one of the players explained how the ranch’s system of abuse operated. “There is a lady who works there who puts pressure on the girls to have sex with Dadou,” she said. “He will see a nice girl who is attractive and he sends the lady to tell her that she is going to be thrown out of the centre. She starts crying and then the lady says: ‘The only way to resolve this is to speak to Dadou.’ At that moment, the young girl has no choice but to put up with the sexual abuse.”

Others also claimed to have been coerced by Jean-Bart into having sex with him, including one who was forced to have an abortion.
“She was put under pressure not to talk,” a former player at the centre said. “Another of our best young players lost her virginity to Dadou when she was 17 in 2018 and also had to abort. These girls who live at the Fifa centre … it’s such a shame because they want to play for the country but if they speak about this situation they will be fired. They are hostages.” Another added: “I’m so afraid. Dadou Jean-Bart is a very dangerous person. There are a lot of people who want to talk but they’re so afraid, especially for the parents who are still in Haiti.”

The Guardian first asked questions about the suspected abuse with Fifa on 27 February and again three days later but received no response. The issue was also raised with the players’ union Fifpro at the start of March, who directed us to Fifa’s senior child safeguarding and protection manager, who did not reply. We tried again on 10 March and this time Fifa did respond, urging us to report any allegations to its confidential whistle-blowing hotline. Having provided more details in several emails over the next fortnight, a source confirmed to us that a member of Fifa’s staff had since raised concerns with the FHF directly.The Guardian’s first story, on 30 April, revealed the abuse allegations. It also detailed the living conditions young players at the ranch had to endure - described as “a nightmare” by a former coach. The money put in by Fifa – an estimated $1m a year since 2010 – apparently had been squandered. The ranch remained in a dilapidated state after years of neglect.
“The last time I set foot there, I wanted to vomit,” said another former coach. “It is despicable. Ten kids sleep in every room, there are no sheets, no clean toilets. It’s unimaginable. Where did the money go? The federation received millions, and they didn’t even buy sheets.

A few days later, journalists from Jean-Bart’s former employers, La Nouvelliste, attempted to gain access to the ranch to investigate the allegations but were turned away. “We are in confinement,” explained a security guard with a “12-gauge rifle in his hand”. “Nobody comes out, nobody comes in. I can’t even make it home.”

La Nouvelliste’s article also stated that it had been “difficult” to hear directly from current residents who “are placed in confinement, far from microphones and cameras”. The following day, a demonstration was held at the ranch which featured several young female players holding placards in support of Jean-Bart.

“The president treats us like his own children. I don’t think that all that really happened. I don’t believe it,” a 12-year-old female player told the Agence France-Presse agency (AFP). “This is an insult to the nation,” added Jean-Bart. Nonetheless, Jean-Bart was summoned to a meeting with the local district attorney, with protestors gathering outside the courthouse to show their solidarity with the alleged victims and promoting the Creole slogan #PaFeSilans (“Do not be silent”).

On 21 May, the second part of the Guardian’s investigation revealed that several players had received death threats since claims against Jean-Bart had been reported, while another story in the New York Times the next day with the headline “Sexual abuse case in global soccer puts Fifa under scrutiny again” placed the spotlight on world football’s governing body. On 25 May, Jean-Bart was suspended by Fifa, initially for 90 days.

Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch, who provided assistance to some of the players, says the Jean-Bart case bore many similarities to the sexual abuse scandal in Afghanistan, also revealed by the Guardian, that eventually saw former football federation president Keramuddin Karim banned for life. Worden recognised that there was no established process for tackling allegations of this kind when they come from countries with dubious records on human rights. “They all failed to understand what had to be done. And I include Fifa in that,” she says. “Fifa had the same reaction for Afghanistan. The question is why did it take so long to suspend him?”

Asked by German publication DW why it had waited so long to act, a Fifa spokesman said the initial information was “vague” and “insufficient to start an investigation”, adding that due process had to be followed. When the Guardian this month pressed Fifa on whether it regretted how long it took to suspend Jean-Bart, a spokesman said: “The proceeding was not slow, taking especially into account the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, several communication issues with the country, the hostility of the environment and above all the challenges in gathering evidence from victims and witnesses whilst ensuring their safety and care. Investigations into sexual abuse cases are extremely sensitive and must be handled with the greatest care. “For the investigative team in Haiti the top priority has always been – and remains – the protection of victims, and they had for instance to intervene to provide support and protection to individuals that had been threatened.”

Fabienne (not her real name) was one of the first players to allege that she had been sexually abused by Jean-Bart. Once considered to be a star player who had represented Haiti at several youth levels, she remembers being told that her dream of playing professionally overseas “depended on sleeping with the president”.

This allegation appears to underline Haiti journalist Stéphane Jean’s view that Jean-Bart “was too powerful and benefited from the lethal weapon in Haiti, that is to say visas for the US”. When Fabienne was 16 or 17, Jean-Bart “put his hand on my leg to get me to go with him” but she refused. Like many of the players who gave evidence to Fifa, her passport was later taken away and not returned.

“For us it had become normal,” says another player. “In our minds it wasn’t even abuse anymore, it was just something that happened every day. It’s very hard to get out of all of this … Some players, even today, feel that they had a relationship, not that they were abused.”

Jean-Bart would also accompany national teams when they played in tournaments overseas, with another player alleging that he forced an injured teammate from the under-18 squad to share a room with him during a trip to the US. “He had sex with players abroad,” she says. “In France, at the Under-20 World Cup in 2018, he abused one of the players. Everyone had to go out except her. The next time, she begged everyone not to leave her alone.”

Jean-Bart’s spokesperson described this allegation as “total lie”, adding: “nothing improper took place at the event, where the team performed brilliantly. There were 40-plus people in the Haitian delegation, with all players sharing hotel rooms, the president himself sharing his hotel room with another man, and no players in position to be alone at any moment inside or outside the hotel. The Guardian’s printing and amplifying of demonstrably false allegations against Dr Jean-Bart illustrates either a rapacious appetite for reprinting lies or a startling naivete gleefully exploited by his political enemies in Haiti.”

The day before Fifa took the ultimate step and banned Jean-Bart for life, he was cleared in Haiti by magistrate Emilio Accimé. The Haitian judicial authorities have said they are reopening the investigation, a move welcomed by the French embassy in Port-au-Prince. It is understood that officials from both France and the US have been monitoring the case, with the Department of Justice investigating whether any of the former FHF president’s alleged crimes took place on US soil.

Nela Joseph, the girls’ supervisor who allegedly helped facilitate abuse by Jean-Bart at the centre, and FHF technical director Wilner Etienne have been suspended by Fifa and are still awaiting the outcome of the investigation. Formal investigations into Rosnick Grant, a former international referee who is now president of the FHF’s referees’ commission (Cona) and a vice-president of the FHF and long-serving executive secretary Fenelus Guerrier also continue. A “normalisation committee” has been brought in to Haiti by Fifa after concerns Jean-Bart was still involved in “the running of its daily affairs”.

Meanwhile, Jean-Bart has continued to protest his innocence. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Jean-Bart questioned whether Fifa had the moral authority to investigate him having been caught out in “scandal after scandal”. “This is the kind of organisation that pretends to be investigating what’s happening in Haiti,” he said.

Yet while she still remains sceptical that justice will eventually be done in her troubled homeland, Fabienne hopes the end of Jean-Bart’s reign could herald a brighter future. “Playing for Haiti, I gave my heart,” she says. “Without us players, you don’t have a game. I am so happy Dadou can’t abuse his power and stop us from achieving our dreams any more.”


While COVID-19 has forced businesses to reduce cost; some sacrificing their internet and cable plans, shifts to work from home and online schooling have led to Flow Trinidad recording its highest broadband subscription ever.

Flow Trinidad’s country manager Kurleigh Prescod said that the end of 2020, the company’s broadband subscription was well over 100,000, indicating a 5 per cent growth in a year when many companies suffered significant losses. Speaking to Guardian Media at the opening of Flow Trinidad’s Gulf City Centre, Prescod said many businesses had to close because of last year’s COVID-19 restrictions.

As commercial customers cut costs, it meant Flow Trinidad lost some business. Prescod said Flow Trinidad worked with many commercial customers to reduce their packages or usage to help them navigate the challenging economy. Some customers discontinued their plans while others could not service their bills.

But with the closure of schools causing children to engage in online classes and many businesses allowing their employees to work from home, there was an increased demand for residential connections.

“We had people needing internet connections for their children to study or for them to work from home. So we have seen a sort of two-sided effect. It was a net positive for us where we were able to record our highest broadband subscribers ever in our operation by the end of last year,” Prescod said.

In South Trinidad, Flow Trinidad added over 2000 new customers and upgraded its service to those clients by moving its operation from Keith Street, San Fernando to Gulf City Mall, La Romaine. The new location has adequate parking, compared to the old spot, and there is an additional payment option, making the usual long lines a thing of the past. There is now a self-payment kiosk outside the store that accepts cash and credit or visa debit card payments. Prescod said this means that customers can pay their bills quickly, whether or not the centre is open. 

“It is almost like an ATM so once the mall is open and you are here, even if our store is not open and you’re on your way to work, you can pay your bill. If you reach too late and the store is already closed, you can still pay your bill as long as the mall is open.”

Inside the store, there are additional customer community desks where clients can review their bills and check out the various products. 

Prescod said that as Flow Trinidad’s clientele grew, it upgraded its systems to accommodate the increased traffic. He said Flow Trinidad has a sound position in the market, and in 2021, the company will continue to invest in upgrading its systems.


The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) will kick off the celebration of its 75th anniversary with their participation in the January 24 Trinidad and Tobago Marathon.

Originally formed by Sir Lennox O’Reilly (president 1946-1948) as the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Association (TTOA) in 1946 --...


Brian Lewis, Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committee (CANOC) president, is advocating for recently re-elected Panam Sports (PS) president Nevin Ilic to address gender and racial equity issues and policies in his upcoming term.

Lewis, also the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president...


As the news went viral and the ripple of shock rose to a crescendo of outrage, embarrassment and recrimination, Michael Cooper sent out a WhatsApp message: “Well… well… well. I guess we need to see things in black and white to believe.”

With the note was the news report from News Channel 5 Cleveland, a television station in Ohio, USA. There for all the world to see was a story extolling the success of Panyard Incorporated, a company in Akron, just outside Cleveland, as the recognised “world leader of steeldrums.”

On the island that had gifted the magnificence of the Steelpan to the world, the casually delivered statement landed with the force of an arrow to the heart. Across the oceans, Trinbagonians reached out for each other via social media in a global commiseration of shared loss. But not Cooper, majority owner and managing director of Panland Trinidad and Tobago Limited, the Laventille-based self-declared “panmakers to the world” and, until recently, the largest steelpan manufacturing company in the world.

As the tide of anger swelled with blame and accusations of cultural appropriation, Cooper’s sense of déjà vu morphed into the triumph of vindication.

Here, “in black and white, all pun intended”, he added with a twinkle in the eye, was what he had been trying to communicate for years to successive governments, investors, bankers and  advocates for steelpan as industry. Neither intimidated nor threatened by Ohio’s foray into the pan manufacturing, Cooper is hoping that the foreign example of Panyard Inc might be the catalyst to convince investors, private or public, about the validity of his strategy for the development of a global steelband industry based in Trinidad and Tobago and, more specifically, in Laventille, birthplace of the Steelpan. From where Panland now sits, all it requires is an infusion of TT$6 million.


Michael Cooper came to steelpan not through music but through industry. An electrical engineer with expertise in operational management, he was the Managing Director of Neal and Massy Industries when the decision was taken in the early nineties to shut down the conglomerate’s car assembly plant in Arima. With the era of protection and windfall profits about to be blown away by the winds of liberalization, competition and cheaper imports, Cooper was charged with the responsibility of finding alternative uses for the car assembly plant.

After a global search for opportunities and ideas, the group known today as the Massy Group, settled on the idea of a new subsidiary, Ajax Manufacturing and Fabricating Ltd, which would transition the plant’s facilities into five different lines of business. One of them was steelpan manufacturing.  Quickly recognising the high potential of the steelpan as “special”, Cooper moved steelpan manufacturing out of Ajax into a separate company, Trinidad and Tobago Instruments Limited, a low-capital joint venture between Neal and Massy as majority shareholder with Metal Industries Company (MIC) and Pan Trinbago, governing body for steelbands. In 1993, as the assembly plant prepared to close, Cooper was offered the comfortable option of staying with the group. To the surprise of almost everyone, he chose to chase the dream.

“I said ‘Pan gone, I gone! And I want the pan.’ Everyone thought I was a mad man but that was the choice I made. I felt compelled to do that,” he explained.

In lieu of a cash severance, Cooper acquired Neal and Massy’s majority shareholding in TTIL and some steelpan manufacturing equipment and moved the company from Arima to Old St Joseph Road in Laventille. In November 1994, TTIL was launched amid great fanfare with Prime Minister Patrick Manning cutting the ribbon to usher in a new day for Steelpan and Laventille.

With its eye trained on the export market, TTIL quickly began conquering new horizons. Very early, Cooper discovered the lucrative, largely untapped market for miniature pans when an order came in for 8,000 miniature pans from Woodstock Percussion, a New York company specializing in wind chimes. That experience also came with a valuable lesson about lead standards for paint in the US market which would later push Cooper to invest in powder coating technology.

After four years at St Joseph Road, Cooper moved the company to its current location opposite Angostura at the corner of the Eastern Main Road, Laventille and Dorata Street. In 2006, the company took on a new investor in Dynamic Equity and changed its name to Panland Trinidad and Tobago Limited. As Dynamic came on, Pan Trinbago cashed in its shares and left.

By 2007, Panland’s production was exploding. When an order for 6,000 pans came in from First Act, a supplier of toy-sized musical instruments based in California USA, its staff of 75 had to work round-the-clock.

“It affected all my customers,” recalled Cooper.

Later, when First Act came back to Panland with a sales projection of 40,000 pans, Cooper said he just “ran”, such demand being far beyond Panland’s capacity. For First Act, Panland invented the 10-and-a-half inch steelpan, broadening its range of pans which also includes an 8-inch, 12-inch, 15-inch, 18-inch 22-and-three-quarters-inch. As it broke into one market after another, Panland picked up entrepreneurial honours, including the Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Award.

From the beginning, Panland had trained its lens on the export market with customers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, the Caribbean and elsewhere. While it produced, maintained and tuned pans for the domestic market, Cooper said the objective was never to replace the industries that had developed around the annual Panorama steelband competition.

In September 2008, when the global economy went into meltdown, Panland was luckier than most. Just the year before, the Trinidad and Tobago government under the Patrick Manning administration had introduced the IDB-funded Pan In Schools programme for which Panland had tendered and been awarded a contract to supply 16-pan ensembles for some of the 500 primary schools in the programme.

While the order for a substantial number of big pans allowed Panland to retain its staff and stay in production, Cooper said the opportunity brought into stark relief the capacity problem created by the limited pool of high quality pan tuners. “We learned early that there was not the tuning capacity to go beyond a certain level of production,” said Cooper.

Panland ended 2009 with what Cooper describes as a “tidy” profit. And then, the bottom fell out of the business, affecting not only for Panland but for the nascent industry that was beginning to develop around the school market for steelpans.

In a dramatic policy shift on music education in schools, the People’s Partnership government halted the Pan In School programme in 2010 with only 93 of the planned 500 schools having been outfitted with steel ensembles. In the two years that suppliers waited for a decision on the programme’s future, businesses collapsed and jobs fell away. Panland held out, hoping for a rebound, and paid the price.

“By 2011, we were crawling and in a big hole that we weren’t able to come out of. It affected everything,” said Cooper.

When the new music programme eventually emerged in 2013, the 16-piece steelband ensembles had gone, replaced by a multi-cultural programme requiring only two tenors pans among a range of instruments representing different cultural traditions such as the cuatro, njimbe, tabla, dholak, chac-chac, triangle and so on.

The unexpected collapse of Pan In School triggered a domino effect that reverberates to this day. At Panland, the once humming workshop in Laventille fell silent as employees were laid off. Cooper’s dream of an industry with an assembly line of continuous pan production offering full-time employment to technicians, tuners and the supporting cast of professionals required for a global business, dissipated. The jobs that came its way had small margins and required ad hoc expertise. Eventually, said Cooper, the company fell so deeply into the hole that it could not even summon the resources to take advantage of the substantial orders for export that began coming its way again as the global economy stabilized and recovered.

Surveying the operation last week, Cooper conceded that he may have held on too long, beyond the point where business sense would have suggested that he chuck it in. But he finds it even harder to walk away and turn his back on the dream, on Laventille and on the capital of knowledge built up over a quarter of a century in scouring the world and understanding the global market for steelpans.

For the briefest of moments, he is overcome by emotion. Then he finds the words: “I wouldn’t be able to face myself if I didn’t hold out for as long as I could.”


Panland vs Panyard Inc

Secret of the Miniature Steelpan

Michael Cooper harbours no rancour about Panyard Inc’s foray into the steelpan market nor is he troubled or particularly threatened by the US company’s boast of being the “world leader of steeldrums.” He sees its success and the efforts of other non-Trinidadian initiatives as important in whetting the international appetite for steelpans and building out the global market in which, he insists, brand Trinidad and Tobago still holds pride of place.

He has known Panyard Inc’s two founders, Ron Kerns and Ron Drouin, for about 20 years, from the days when they were young music graduates following their fascination with pan to the panyards of Port of Spain, weaving in and out bands, scoring the music and selling the sheets. Panland sold them their first shipment of pans and Cooper remembers how they teased him when they first saw his miniature pans at the Laventille factory.

“Before they were making miniature pans they used to be laughing and joking, kicksing on us and saying ‘allyuh ain’t no panmakers to the world; allyuh is smallpan makers to the world.’ It was a joke.”

Panyard Inc’s movement into the successful production of its Jumbie Jam miniature steelpans tells Cooper that they have now discovered what he recognised two decades ago about miniature pans- which is that they can penetrate bigger markets at a lower cost and, priced right, can deliver faster and bigger profits.

More importantly for Trinidad and Tobago, 25 years of experience has taught him that building a business from miniature pans up is not only good business but essential to the development of a steelpan industry, given the capacity constraint of the small pool of expert pan tuners.

Early on, as substantial orders came in for the regular big pans, Panland had come up against the hard reality that the number of expert pan tuners that had emerged in response to the needs of the national steelband movement was far from enough to support an industry producing pans for the domestic and export market on a year-round basis. “You cannot have a significant commercial production activity on big pans alone because you have to have the tuners to do that,” said Cooper. Tuning, he explained, is the human specialty that so far continues to defy technological innovation, including artificial intelligence.

He quickly discovered, however, that while big pans required high quality pan-tuning expertise, miniature pans could be produced at high volume with a lower level of tuning skill.

“The big opportunity these miniature pans provided us was to be able to bring steelpans into production with a shorter training curve.”

By Cooper’s calculation, it takes roughly five years of training and tuning for a tuner to begin “to catch himself”. For miniature pans, the training curve is much shorter. The penny, as they say, dropped. Going after the market for miniature pans, which took Panland into the massive global market for toys and low cost educational instruments, became the platform for building a sustainable, global steelpan manufacturing company based in Trinidad and Tobago and, more precisely, Laventille.

“These miniature pans allow entry into pan manufacture while there is production that can pay for people to be fully employed and trained on the job, rather than the big pans where you have to go and apprentice with a trainer and spoil a lot of his pans which he cannot afford.”

Using this model, mass production of miniature pan became the training ground for permanently-employed tuners who could eventually graduate to the big pans where only excellence will cut it. Of the top ten winners in Panorama 2018, Cooper takes pride in declaring “without fear of contradiction… that six or seven were tuned by people who came out of Panland.”

One week before Carnival 2016, in the hectic countdown to Panorama, the now defunct Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) headed by Dr Terrence Farrell invited Cooper to make a presentation on the steelpan industry. “They interviewed everybody in the industry and this same model that I have been proposing and which Panyard Inc is using is what I gave to them to put in the mix.” His proposal calls for connecting the dots between training and the job opportunities that would be created by linking production output to the global demand for steelpans that Panland had discovered in the markets for  toys, early music education, adult recreation and professional music.

That exercise helped inform the EDAB’s “Proposal on Steelpan Manufacturing Industry for Export” which was presented to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Soon after, Farrell resigned in frustration and by April 2018, Dr Rowley dissolved the board. Nothing has since been heard of the proposal.

In Laventille, Cooper is still holding out, resisting the lure of tempting offers to move production to China as he waits for the tide to turn. Although the window may be closing, the export market still tells him that Brand Laventille and Brand T&T still possess the force and the power to catapult an indigenous steelband industry into the big league of the global market.

“There is something about Pan made in Laventille,” he says, noting that “Trinidad and Tobago remains the source and remains the place where you get the best pans in the world” He pauses, swallows hard, and in softer tone he adds: “This is not about money. It’s a lot more than that.”

Sunity Maharaj ♦ Photo: Maria Nunes


TLewis chides NSOs for being ‘too slow’ to adapt in Covid era

Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis indicated that national sporting organisations (NSOs) have failed to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Covid-19 pandemic

And those NSOs need to step up their game if their sports are to survive and prosper.