National Carnival Commission (NCC) Winston “Gypsy” Peters made a quick run for the exit yesterday when confronted by irate regional Carnival representatives, upset by the significantly less subvention received for their celebrations of the greatest show on earth.
Just about $1 million – the first tranche of about $2 to $3 million allocated regional Carnival – was disbursed yesterday to over 50 regional carnival bodies at a ceremony at the NCC’s VIP lounge at the Grand Stand in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
No one was pleased with the allotments, some slashed by almost 50 per cent from the year before. Faces that entered the lounge beaming with expectant smiles at the start of the ceremony were transformed into glum, resigned frustration when people opened their envelopes and looked at their cheques.
And they let Peters know, heading straight for him at the head table as soon as the event was over. Overwhelmed, Peters called out to an assistant to help him escape the room.
Newsday caught up with him as he exited, and he agreed to speak briefly, but at a safe distance from the crowd, in the parking lot. Asked about the formula to determine the allotment, Peters, a former minister of culture, was unsure. “Probably the size of the place and historical antecedence,” he said.
He said if people wanted access to more funds, if they had a justified cause – and maybe if there was still money in the NCC’s coffers – they might be able to access some more.
He also clarified that he didn’t try to escape because people were complaining, but rather, he tried to escape from an environment in which he felt bombarded by too many things. “I have a lot of things to do. I had to get out of there,” he said.
He said the NCC is yet to receive all its funding for the year – approximately $135 million – and even that’s just the budget, not what it might actually get. Last year, for example, the state body got $44 million less than promised. “People will always complain. I can’t stop people from complaining,” he said.
The sums this year were “clearly an insult to regional carnival,” Abrahim Ali of the San Juan/Barataria Carnival Committee told Newsday.
“We got $15,000 this year. Last year we got $25,000. We have one show tonight and that alone might cost $20,000 to put on. Apart from that, we have eight other events carded. What can we do with $15,000 when one DJ costs $5,000 a night,” Ali said. The group had requested $148,000 from the NCC.
Getting help from businesses and the private sector hasn’t been successful because of the economy, or at least, that was the excuse he was told, he added.
“We are really in a predicament now, with low funding and poor reception from the business community,” he said.
Edwin Noel from the La Brea Carnival Committee said the group would just “have to make do.” The group had requested about $200,000, but got $38,000, a far cry from last year’s $75,000.
“I won’t say it’s not sufficient, but we have to make it do. We will have to do more with less. We have junior and senior calypso competitions and a parade of the band, but that’s about it because we can’t do anything more,” he said.
Gideon Walters from the New Maracas Valley Carnival Committee said he’d probably have to cut some events from his itinerary because his group “can’t do anything much” with the $25,000 they received. The group had requested $90,000 this year, and last year, received $40,000.
Both Peters and the representative from the NCC’s line ministry, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development and Culture Susan Shurland, noted the need for better accounting and management from the regional carnival bodies to ensure money was used for what it was supposed to be used for, especially in this time of economic tightness.
Chief executive of the NCC, Colin Lucas, concurred. Speaking to Newsday after the ceremony, Lucas said inadequate accounting could have affected allotments, regardless of budget constraints.
He also clarified that the amounts distributed were just half of the total. The allocations are not fixes, he said, because it’s a very dynamic environment, so a committee would have gotten a sum last year but their accounting for it may have been incomplete.