Thursday 28th February, 2008

 

The business of Carnival

 
 
 
 
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The chamber expects the post-mortem on Carnival 2008 by the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs and all relevant stakeholders will take place in the very near future. There has been quite a lot of discussion this season about setting fixed dates on the national calendar for Carnival, instead of letting it fall on the two days preceding Ash Wednesday.

The chamber has seen in the media a number of cogent arguments both for and against. While the private sector will always favour a fixed, determinable time-frame for the supply of goods and services, it nevertheless needs to hear the other side in this matter.

Our information is that on Carnival Tuesday, despite the return of the parade to the street, some bands lined up in the tributaries off the Queen’s Park Savannah for more than three hours. Vendors along the southern side of the Savannah complained bitterly about the late delivery of booths to them and the consequent loss in revenue.

Cro Cro protested to Trinbago United Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco) about the panel of judges for the Calypso Monarch competition; some of whom were trained by Chalkdust, with Chalkdust appearing as a contestant. Controversy developed between Pan Trinbago and the NCC over whether or not the facilities in the Savannah were ready in time for the start of the Panorama preliminaries.

These things must be corrected once and for all.

In the chamber’s opinion, if the national festival is to continue to maintain its attraction, a permanent home has to be found for it. The chamber expects that all relevant stakeholders are being consulted to make their valuable and constructive suggestions for its appropriate design and use.

The chamber is indeed encouraged by the report in the newspapers of February 25 in which the Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs is reported as stating that construction of the new Carnival and Entertainment Centre will commence later this year to be competed, hopefully, by 2010. The chamber, of course, expects that the procurement process will be fair and on a level playing field for all to engage and that appropriate monitoring controls will be put in place to ensure that it is completed within budget and on time.

Insofar as the administration of the festival is concerned, the leadership of the NCC and functioning of its commissioners seems to have settled down under chairman Keston Nancoo.

The Government should have as little an active role as possible in the work of the commission, except to inject money for the goods and services it wishes to promote through non-profit centres. For example, if Government wishes free admission and refreshment for the entire public service it must pay the NCC to do that.

Similarly, if it wants a parade of bands staged at Blanchisseuse it must foot the bill for same. In other words, the NCC must be allowed to do its job and operate with full accountability and transparency. The NCC must be totally independent of the Treasury and of political influence.

The chamber sees the future role of the Government with a full-time NCC functioning and achieving such objectives.

The Government must be a facilitator and a facilitator only. It must concern itself with the future of Carnival, the role of youth and appropriate infrastructure. Junior Carnival, interestingly, remains a manifestation of the past and, as such, the Government must encourage and promote its beauty, creativity, art and industry as part of nation building, ensuring that the positives of the festival and the aspirations of each generation are fostered by way of addressing the challenges of indiscipline and lawless behaviour in our schools, so that Carnival may not be disguised for such practices and become an opportunity for crime.

The future realisation of the industry demands that the Tourism Development Company as well as the Entertainment Company take their rightful place in facilitating the objectives of NCC in terms of joint marketing initiatives in our airline, tourist and entertainment sectors, opening the doors of opportunity for calypso, pan and costumed bands in traditional markets and protecting the intellectual property of our artistes, designers, inventors and craftsmen. They must, in conjunction with the “new” NCC shape the Carnival product for sale in these markets and maximise the revenues therefrom.

Do some homework on the Olympics, every major golfing event, the Miss Universe and Miss World contests, the World Cup and international cricket. Our Carnival has to be packaged to compete with such world events in the marketplace of mass communications. A certain degree of production and broadcast experience is necessary and is not beyond the reach of our stakeholders in the success of Carnival. Our people do not wish to look upon it as a commodity, but, to the world at large it is a product. A Carnival product and a very viable one at that.

The Minister of Finance has to encourage added value for the millions of dollars in subvention to stage Carnival. In the Chamber’s view, the time is now right to consider the parlaying of our unique creativity into a dynamic and viable industry or sector by way of incentives in the 2008/2009 budget which would awaken the entire commercial sector.

In particular, the deduction of 150 per cent of expenses up to a maximum of $450,000, should not be limited to the broadcast of local cultural, educational and entertainment productions to local, regional and international audiences. It should be expanded to include, for example, raw material for the manufacture of costumes, the making of steel pans and anything that is essential for the preservation of the national instrument and its promotion as well as for calypso and development of the artform.

Of course, the incentives must be linked to the Carnival industry, employment and the final product, in order to avoid any misuse or abuse and achieve the objective of the stimuli.

The chamber detects that there is boredom being generated by bandleaders who produce beads and bikinis each year. Some of them have complained about the high cost of production of everything else and had to resort to China and the Middle East for better quality and more timely product.

The NCC needs to do some homework in this area in the interest of ensuring the continued existence of an indigenous artform, attractive enough to successfully compete with Brazil and the other regional and international Carnivals, the number of which continually increase. The National Carnival Bands Association must alter its categories and prize money appropriately, instead of appearing to do so via incentives which cannot be logically and transparently explained to other stakeholders in the industry.

We must remember that Carnival is a contributor of more than US$50 million to the national economy; and this without really trying. It promotes the country. It is a stimulus to the hotel, food and beverage sectors and provides employment for many of the unskilled and non-conventionally skilled persons who may be tempted to resort to crime.

It is an excellent training ground for some form of permanent employment and eventual graduation from the ranks of the unemployed to the employable, despite the present low unemployment rate. It should not continue like a hobby, a pastime or part time occupation that begins on Boxing Day and ends on Ash Wednesday each year. The opportunities are indeed endless.

The deduction of 150 per cent of expenses up to a maximum of $450,000,… should be

expanded to include, for

example, raw material for

the manufacture of

costumes, the making of steel pans and anything

that is essential for

the preservation of

the national instrument

and its promotion as well

as for calypso and

development of the artform.

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