Tobago calypsonians turned up in their numbers in Scarborough on Wednesday morning to deliver an encore of their call for the removal of George Leacock as director of the Tobago Festivals Commission.
The acrimony between Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) Tobago and Leacock reached the courtroom in 2019 with the former suing the commission and winning $800,000 to run its competitions and tents.
TUCO Tobago president Ainsley King, on Wednesday morning, led calypsonians and Carnival bandleaders to protest "the continued undermining of the authority of the Carnival interest groups."
Senior TUCO member and bandleader Opoku Ware said the organisation is prepared to take legal action again to get their just due.
"They has been mass underfunding of the organisation and an intrusion in the rights of the organisation to run the Carnival events in Tobago."
Ware said, last year the commission opened two calypso tents "while the TUCO tent members had to perform in little pubs and on the roadside."
Leacock told Newsday in 2019, that the commission was only attempting to bring structure to the calypso tents.
Ware said the resignation of commission chairman Dr Suzanne Burke a couple weeks ago has thrown everything into disarray as previous agreements were not being honoured.
In her resignation statement, dated January 27, Burke said the "strategic mandate to effect the transformation of Tobago's festival ecology was not achievable, given the current operating environment and decision-making framework."
Ware believes Burke was forced out from her position.
"Chairman Burke had told our treasurer in their negotiations...they were going to allocate $1.3 million for us to run our events which include calypso and other Carnival competitions."
He said meetings between the two bodies started in December and were held at the conference room of the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation in Scarborough.
Ware said after Burke resigned, Leacock insisted TUCO Tobago would only receive $800,000.
"And he was also insisting how the money should be used. We have refused to take that money because it cannot handle our events. It is impractical."
Asked on Wednesday whether he was aware of any previous agreement between Burke and TUCO Tobago, Leacock said he was in the dark about any such information.
Ware believes the action is deliberate.
"It's a continuation of (the commission) trampling on our autonomy."
"He's acting like if he's the king of Tobago Carnival. We are not prepared to tolerate that, and one of our major demands is that he has to go."
Leacock denied the claims and said it is the commission’s board that holds the real power.
"The board of the (commission) runs the Carnival and I follow the instruction."
Ware said the commission must appreciate the magnitude of Tobago Carnival, and its economic impact, and treat it with the respect it deserves.
"We believe, if we are talking about tourism and Carnival in Tobago, that Carnival is the biggest tourism puller in Tobago. What we get is after Carnival a lot of tourists, who come for (Trinidad) Carnival, come to Tobago for a weekend and we benefit from that. The hoteliers and everybody benefit from it."
He said TUCO Tobago members passed three resolutions after the protest on Wednesday. These include the right of the Carnival interest groups to handle their affairs and be adequately funded; the immediate removal of Leacock; and the revival of the Tobago Fest event in September.
In an immediate response, the commission held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Acting chairman Penelope Williams said the funding this year is consistent with what was disbursed in 2019.
"A court settlement of 2019 saw TUCO receiving $800,000, and from the Department of Culture $150,000 to fund calypso tents. At this time we would have gotten the same allocation as 2019, so we are not in a position to give any of the interest groups more.”
Williams added, "This organisation is refusing to accept that sum, demanding a change of the THA policy for funding and actually demanding $500,000 more, which would be $1.3 million for calypso competitions that will engage some 30 calypsonians."
Williams said there was an emergency meeting on Monday where the board met with the interest groups, including TUCO, "and we expressed that our hands were tied in terms of the budgetary constraints.
(With reporting by Corey Connelly)