Far and away the biggest loser in this year's Carnival has to be the minister of arts and multiculturalism himself who, if firm and decisive action is not taken to rescue it, probably oversaw what will be remembered as the beginning of the end of Carnival. No one in living memory can remember a time when so much went wrong with so many things in the festival at once and, long before anyone has to call for his head, Dr Lincoln Douglas should do the honourable thing and step down or be removed.
Had the Carnival not begun with a demonstration of open arrogance on his part, reminiscent on the heyday of the Manning romp, I may not have been tempted to be this harsh, but how one individual can come across as so clueless and complicit in so much irregular if not questionable decision making at the same time is baffling to say the least.
From his now infamous “so what” response to media questions regarding the abuse of tickets by friends and family of certain public office holders to the almost collapse of the parade of the bands, Dr Douglas needs to take full ownership of the calamitous state of affairs of Carnival 2014 and demit office with some semblance of honour.
Who will forget this Carnival, with the widely rejected confusion that was the splash pool added to the Panorama, the hijacking and privatization of a 'piece' of Carnival to organizations some are claiming to be very good friends of the minister, the embarrassing confrontation over the Kiddies’ Carnival parade route between bandleaders and the NCBA and the fiasco that was the Calypso Fiesta in Skinner Park?
Everything that became the Socadrome comes across as so rotten and riddled with, if not corruption, then clearly some dubious decision making on the part of the state, with the final ignobility being broadcast rights that should have derived revenue for the taxpayers from whom all the largesse for the Carnival flows being farmed out to private hands without even so much as tender or even public offering that such a thing was possible.
So where do we go from here?
After the acceptance of the resignation of the minister, a shakeup of the entire National Carnival Commission needs to take place and the entire board removed and replaced with representatives of the arts and cultural communities and Carnival, Pan and Calypso stakeholders as outlined in the NCC Act of 1991. Properly constituted, this new board should be placed on a forward-looking management footing and mandated to identify where we are in all sectors of the Carnival culture and, more importantly, where we go from here.
Emphasis needs to be placed on re-establishing the autonomy and authority of the National Carnival Commission and step one needs to be the tightening up of the NCC Act itself and, where it is vague, amended to properly reflect the intention.
From there, discussions need to begin in earnest on matters such as resuscitating Calypso as an art-form, establishing a parade route outside of residential communities (but one that also takes into account the needs and safety of the masqueraders) and, last but not least, the finances of Carnival, the removal of subsidies from where they are not needed and the application of financial support where it desperately is.
The commercial value of our Carnival needs to stop being such a well kept secret and accounts published to show where all outflows and income goes. Worldwide carnival knock offs have become huge money spinners so why is it not for us as well? The power of the tourism sector to shape economies is hinted at but never properly exploited here and, if not Carnival, then what, pray tell, do we have unique to offer?
In the final analysis something as massive as the National Carnival must not come across as last minute and planned by lapse but purposeful and well thought out and begun with the end in sight. Qualitatively, one of those ends MUST be the fostering of cohesiveness among the people and of national unity; quantitatively it ought to generate the level of income that it is demonstrably capable of generating for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Phillip Edward Alexander
Social and Political Activist