Postpone Carnival

January 03, 2001

SHOULD the current impasse between Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and President Arthur NR Robinson continue into next week, Government (to the extent we have one) would be well advised to postpone the impending Carnival celebrations.

On New Year’s Day, Mr Robinson dug in, stating flatly he won’t appoint to Cabinet positions, any of the seven candidates who lost their seats at last month’s general elections. Among them is Roy Augustus, proposed by Mr Panday as National Security Minister.

Mr Panday has already indicated that he has no other choice for that Ministry. With Parliament due to be opened next Friday, it now seems possible that Government will, for the first time, be proceeding without this crucial portfolio and into Carnival, a period when the country is most vulnerable to large-scale disorder.

Euphemistically touted as The Greatest Show on Earth, Trinidad Carnival has now reduced its implementation period to a mere six weeks, before the first major State-funded activity gets underway. Let us resolve to not act surprised if this edition of the festival fails to deliver even the quality of entertainment we have come to expect.

Happily, Mr Robinson has recanted on his earlier refusal to swear-in two winning candidates, whose election is currently the subject of a petition before the courts. One of them, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, is tipped for the post of Junior Minister in the Culture Ministry, under whose aegis Carnival falls.

Now, for all its well-advertised jollification, Carnival provides a massive distraction, with a noise level that offers perfect camouflage for covert and sinister action. On New Year’s Day, Acting Police Commissioner Everald Snaggs summoned his executive to an emergency meeting to discuss beefing up national security at sensitive installations; a judgement call made under normal circumstances by the Minister.

If the Cabinet conundrum continues, similar initiatives will have to be specially undertaken for Carnival and not just by the police. Prisons, fire services, army and coast guard, will each have to work out emergency, crowd management and defence plans and issue regulations without reference to Government authority; a prescription for chaos if ever one was written.

When your neighbour’s house is on fire, as the saying goes, you should wet yours. The police meeting came one day after four men armed with cutlasses went into a church in normally serene St Lucia and chopped several worshippers, killing three (including a nun) and burning the raiment of a priest after setting fire to the altar.

The St Lucia massacre occurred on holy ground. Trinidad Carnival, which cannot be confused with anything sacred, takes place in a setting far more conducive to radical behaviour than Sunday morning prayers of any known religion.

But the holdup in getting the new Government running has done more than disrupt plans for managing the huge and often inebriated Carnival crowds.

The delay has also raised anxieties among the principals of the festival’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs), who are unanimous in protest over their undefined wait for the annual Government subventions that allow them to mobilise for Carnival.

It is the latest that the State has been in releasing these monies (which are already approved for such purpose in the national budget). Steelbands are normally given cash advances to prepare for the Panorama competition and in order to avoid the escalation of variable costs like overtime pay, construction of the North Stand and facilities at the Queen’s Park Savannah and other locations needs to begin.

Calypso has no seed money to book venues, seal performance contracts for its shows or begin advertising. And while several of the more popular calypso tents are operated by private enterprise, State-supported Kaiso House, from which the reigning national monarch (Shadow) comes, is not yet able to print a ticket or appoint a manager, with its season scheduled to open on January 24.

Chutney makes an historic debut this year as a Government-funded component of the national festival, but officials of the National Chutney Foundation have already gone public with the complaint that the quality of its contribution could be negatively affected by the late-receipt of their promised $2.4 million subvention.

One imagines that Government will hit the ground running in the matter of disbursing start-up money for Carnival, but Mr Panday can do nothing about the President’s refusal to appoint his choice of National Security Minister.

Nor, it appears, can we.

Now if all of this were taking place in England, with Mr Robinson as Head of State, his actions would be quite acceptable. In that monarchy, where there is no written constitution, the royal head is by tradition vested with the moral authority to refuse the appointment of persons proposed for Cabinet by the Prime Minister, if they are deemed unsuitable by the Crown.

But although they share the same first name, Mr Robinson is not King Arthur.

In fact, several experts suggest that he might well be breaking the law by inflicting his opinion on us, since the Constitution makes clear the extent of his jurisdiction. It would, therefore, be useful to hear from the Law Association on this issue or, for that matter, the Chamber of Commerce and Inter Religious Organisation (IRO), whose voices normally rise at times like these, to add or help clarify perspectives. And let me warn that merely hoping aloud for “good sense” to prevail, will not satisfy the demands of the current situation.

In the absence of swift solutions to both of the major problems affecting Carnival, it may be risky to proceed with the festival except, of course, we wish to test another old saying that begins with the words: “What sweet in goat mouth …”

Terry-J at I-Level