We had to cut back plans
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 29 2012
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Members of Wasafoli perform an African dance during the opening of the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village at the Queen's Park Savannah (QPS), Por...
Days after receiving its requested $4 million from the People’s Partnership (PP) Government to carry out its activities, chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC), Khafra Kambon, is confident that this year’s Emancipation observance will again be a bumper celebration.
“Everything will be quite successful,” an optimistic Kambon told Sunday Newsday on Thursday, shortly after it was revealed the Government had agreed to the whopping subvention in keeping with the group’s original request.
“We have very good exhibitions, both free and paid programmes, and we feel quite confident of what is going to happen. We are going to have a bumper Emancipation. There is no question about it.”
The theme of this year’s celebration, which also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the ESC, is “Forever Forward: Reflection, Resistance, Renewal.” Several activities have already taken place to commemorate this year’s celebration, which marks the 174th anniversary of the abolition of slaves. These include the blessing of the ground at the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village at the Queen’s Park Savannah (QPS), Port-of-Spain, last Sunday; the formal opening of the Village at the QPS on Friday; and Rhythm and Voices of the People, which took place yesterday. Today’s schedule features a Family Day/African Food Festival; Youth Steelband Concert; Forum on Africa and the Diaspora and Pan/Jazz. All of these activities will be held at the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village.
Emancipation celebrations get into high gear this week with the Youth Day tomorrow, and the Kambule celebration on Wednesday, which is expected to pave the way for the grand Emancipation Day cultural programme at the Queen’s Park Savannah. Guests of honour at this event are Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Dame Patience Jonathan.
Essentially, the event celebrates the freedom of African slaves from the clutches of white rule, since many of them had lived in torturous conditions, characterised by back-breaking labour, an inadequate diet and rampant disease. But Emancipation also pays tribute to the grit and resolve of persons from the African diaspora, who, despite the sub-human conditions they endured in the region, still managed to salvage many aspects of their culture and way of life. And so, in an attempt to create avenues for subsequent generations, they resisted their enslavement in full knowledge of the dire consequences, through open revolts and by deliberately practising a poor work ethic.
On August 1, 1838, the slaves received their freedom. In Trinidad and Tobago, this manifested itself in the development of communities such as Laventille and Belmont. Many former slaves also bought or rented land, and made a living by growing their own food crops. Some slaves also became craftsmen, builders and domestics.
Over the years, however, many have felt that the observance has not been given the significance it deserves at the level of the government. And while he is pleased with the hefty sum that was offered by the People’s Partnership on Thursday, Kambon sang a different tune early last week after spurning a meagre $1 million offer, which had been made to the ESC by the Government, on the basis that it was simply not enough.
He had also accused the PP of backtracking on its vow to include the Emancipation observance in the annual budget — a position to which the Government had taken great umbrage.
But on Thursday, Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Dr Lincoln Douglas announced during the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s that the Government had agreed to grant the ESC $4 million for celebration. Douglas said $2 million would come from his ministry while the remaining sum was to be sourced through the Office of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar later presented Kambon with a $2 million cheque.
“I want to extend my appreciation to the Government for funding what we asked for,” Kambon told Sunday Newsday after the presentation.
“We are relieved, but I also raised the issue, shortly after, of discussing the process for next year’s event.”
Kambon was referring to the perennial problem of late funding and the fact that the observance, some 27 years after being designated a public holiday in this country, still has not been accorded its just due, given its importance to a large segment of the population as well as its symbolism, and generally, to those who feel they are experiencing some form of enslavement.
Kambon’s sunny outlook has come with a measure of hurt and disdain. He said the tardiness with which the monies have been disbursed suggested, in his mind, the Government’s continued failure to truly acknowledge the importance of the event to local and international audiences.
“It is a way of doing things that does not reflect the importance that should be assigned for festivals of this nature,” he said.
One of the major figures of the 1970 Black Power Revolution, Kambon said the committee, which he has led since its inception in 1992, had submitted its requirements for the event to the Government many months ago and were anticipating a timely response.
He said: “We were expecting, based on the promises that were made, that this problem of last minute arrangements and all the uncertainty before in terms of quantum and everything else, would have been averted this year by the formation of a committee to make recommendations. But that did not happen.”
An outspoken Kambon said he hoped the inconveniences caused by the late issuing of funding will not be repeated next year, suggesting that an allocation in the annual budget could prevent such unfortunate developments.
“We think that the festival is deserving of far more support than this, given the scale and importance of the festival and its potential, which we have pointed out to the Government on many occasions,” he said.
“We think it deserves a higher level of support than this and we want to ensure that the festival becomes an item in the budget. They can decide how they assign it, under what ministry. But the question of the Emancipation festival ought to become an item in the budget of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago so we can avoid what has happened on another occasion, this year, and which puts us in an extremely difficult position to get everything in the way that has been planned.”
He added, “It puts tremendous stress on the organisers, who have had to do everything at the last minute. That is no way for us to move forward.”
The ESC chairman, however, forsees that the problem could re-occur if sums are not budgeted in the future.
Kambon told Sunday Newsday: “When money is not budgeted as part of the annual process, in terms of how the public service works, there is always a question of where do we take the funds from because there are a number of budget heads and somebody, whether the minister or PS (permanent secretary), can work out what head it is coming from.
“How could you be doing that every year when you know there is an annual event that is taking place, when you know the level of request that is being made on an annual basis?”
An economist himself, Kambon argued that the Government would also have been very familiar with the costs attached to the festival over the years based on the committee’s penchant of providing very detailed accounts to the ministry.
“I am not talking about minimal. So that they know they have the information. It is available through the ministry and when we do our audits through the ministry’s approved auditors. So they know what the costs are like and they know what our sources of income are and what money is spent on,” he said.
As such, Kambon said the committee’s requests for funding are not made arbitrarily.
“We make it and they have that historic cost to be guided by,” he said.
Kambon added that over the years, the committee has also articulated, both verbally and by way of documentation, a vision for the observance “because, in a sense, it is at a certain level of stagnation.
“There is so much that can be done with the celebration that could be of tremendous benefit if budgeting for the festival can be done in an organised way and if the Government could accept to support some of these initiatives to win the benefits which we can forsee and which we have pointed out to them,” he said.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement of the $4 million sum, Kambon said the committee has had to find ways to cut back on expenditure, particularly with respect to infrastructure at the QPS.
“We had a lot of cut backs to the point where a number of vendors who would have liked to be in the village, some of whom have come here several times, were left out this year because we couldn’t make the market as large as we would have wanted it to be, because it is a cost which involved expansion outside of the wall. We couldn’t undertake it because anything that added cost was out.”
This year, he said, they also had to take the regulations of the Fire Service into account.
“Last year, we had to leave out some people,” he said.
“We overcrowded the space and the Fire Service has said that we cannot do that again. So to follow those regulations, we had to cut. The thing had suffered from not having a budget to work with, not getting support that we expected at the time.
“But we are going to work with what is offered and we are going to make it successful. We are sure that we are going to have a very strong emancipation this year. We have very strong shows lined up.”
In spite of the encumbrances, Kambon said people have continued to show trust and confidence in the work of the ESC and the celebration, generally.
“This is something I really appreciate because we have never had a fear of having to cancel a programme,” he said, adding the support has grown tremendously over the years.
“There are some events for which you have a massive turnout and more people have definitely become more aware of the marketplace. The marketplace is a much busier place but in terms of specific events there is still a lot of variation.”
Kambon said he was especially pleased with the attendance at the Youth Day celebration and steelpan night.
He said: “We try to encourage people to bring their children. And most of the holiday camps have realised that this is one of the most inspirational and exciting things that they can bring their children to and therefore they come in large numbers for the Youth Day.”
Regarding the attendance at Emancipation shows, Kambon has observed certain trends over the years.
“If you have a paid show your audience varies according to your ability to advertise, because where we have gotten a promoter to partner with us and they are able to capture a lot of their space for advertising, their shows have done very well,” he said.
“But where we have had to scrunt with a couple ads here and there, you have a considerable drop in attendance at paid shows. In Trinidad, you are up against so much competition.”
Kambon said over the years the committee had taken a conscious decision not to have many paid shows “because we know we do not have the money to do so and you cant concentrate all your resources on a paid show.”
He said citizens have not reached the point where they will whole-heartedly agree to attend an Emancipation celebration.
“They have to be stirred up the same way they are stirred up to go somewhere else,” Kambon said.