Justice Vashiest Kokaram asked the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) and the TT Carnival Bands Association TTCBA last week to consider ways to resolve their considerable differences before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Kokaram has scheduled a follow-up mediation meeting for February 27, the date on which Kings and Queens of Carnival meet in final competition, in the hope that the two bandleader representative bodies might be able to work their differences out before their biggest event.
That isn't likely. The current impasse is the result of the intervention of the government, through the National Carnival Commission, into a long-running conflict between the two organisations. The recognised stakeholder organisation that sits on the NCC board runs Carnival’s costumed celebrations; a role that’s been hotly contested for years. Until 2017, the NCBA was the comfortable incumbent in that seat, which also receives the funding allocated for mas. The TTCBA has argued for six years that it has most working bandleaders on its membership lists and should be the duly appointed representative. The NCBA has a similar claim.
Bands currently cannot compete in Carnival if they are not members of the representative body, a rule that creates an unacceptable loop of continuity. The NCC took over the running of mas for Carnival 2018 with no mas representative on the board. The TTCBA’s Rosalind Gabriel was appointed to the NCC board in June 2018.
The conflict is about money and control. An audit of Pan Trinbago, the NCBA and the Trinidad Unified Calypsonians Organisation by the Government, which invests millions in Carnival each year found troubling issues. Auditor Ernst and Young found conflicts of interest, inadequate accounting controls and non-adherence to policies and procedures in all the stakeholder organisations.
Last month, NCC Chairman Winston Peters threatened to withdraw funding for regional Carnival organisations if they did not account for the funding they received in 2018. According to the funding agreement with the NCC, supporting bills and invoices must be supplied 90 days after Carnival. Some of these organisations, Peters said, had not supplied supporting documents for expenditure since 2015.
It took tightened budgets to finally force accountability and transparency into Carnival’s systems and procedures, but these changes must become institutional and persistent. There is no decisive data underpinning the notion that Carnival makes money for this country, but there are millions of taxpayer’s dollars unaccounted for in unacceptable quantities that should be more clearly supporting Carnival’s development.
The Government, via the NCC, has an important role in supporting an important cultural tradition, but it must do so according its own spending rules and demand an accountable infrastructure from the festival’s stakeholders.