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Richard Afong

Richard Afong

Bandleaders to blame

Interview with Terry Joseph
March 03, 2002

RICHARD Afong, embattled chairman of the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), takes on his critics frontally, dismissing the widely held view that his sitting on the review committee (whose work led his band Barbarossa to win by default) represented a conflict of interest.

He is also candid about what he calls behaviour by bandleaders on Carnival days which, he says, is the major cause of congestion and general confusion.

Afong bluntly refuses to bow to demands by aggrieved bandleaders for him to step down.


Q: Mr Afong, what is the current state of the continuing impasse?

Richard Afong: I really wouldn’t know because I have completely divorced myself from those proceedings.

What was the cause of the conflict over the Large Band of the Year award?

Its genesis was in continuous disregard for and flounting of parade route rules, which had been going on for many years and by bands that should know better and set some kind of example. As soon as they reach large-band status, everyone is a prima donna. Now it has degenerated into total disorder from captain to cook and I don’t care who gets upset when I say that, because it is the truth.

So you have been quietly presiding over this indiscipline?

I don’t know about presiding over it, but the facts are that every year at least two large bands break the rules, exacerbating the confusion, always with some kind of “legitimate” reason, of course. You have no idea how outrageous some of my colleagues can be. We once heard that the people holding banner did not know Port of Spain (perhaps they were imported banner holders) and went straight across Park Street, which everyone knows is forbidden.

What about the rule under contention, the regulation that allowed the NCBA to deduct points from disobedient bands?

Bandleaders agreed to that rule. What happened over time is that they were excused with a light tap on the wrist, but it was getting worse by leaps every year, so we decided to invoke the rule this time. It is not new as they would have people believe. Some leaders of large bands seem to be using their creativity more for making excuses than making mas.

Why would you sit on a disciplinary committee, the findings of which could possibly push your band to the top spot?

You have to separate those comments, because two different committees deal with those aspects. The Aesthetics Committee deals with the judges’ scores and the Compliance Committee deals with infringements and consequences. The Parade of the Bands Committee felt that the large bands were doing exactly as they pleased and decided it had had enough and this year invoked the relevant clause of the regulations.

What did the relevant rule say exactly?

What it said was breaking the route, impeding progress of other bands, or failing to follow the instructions of NCBA officials would subject the band to a penalty of so many percentage points. The NCBA regulations also say “the chairman or secretary to preside over this committee”.

But didn’t that give you extraordinary influence?

No. In fact, it’s almost observer status and I can assure you I did not take an active part at any point of the deliberations. If I attempted to intervene, they would probably have run me out of the room. I was there only to observe they went through proper procedures.

Even so, didn’t you open yourself to charges of a conflict of interest?

What I can say is that I may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time but, as I outlined, there was no way of knowing at the time that Barbarossa was even in the running. When the committee convened, no one there was aware of the judges’ findings on placings of the bands.

On the compliance committee’s agenda was a complaint by the same Legends about the conduct of the same Minshall. Frankly, I thought the meeting would last five minutes, but when someone asked whether any new complaints had come in, that opened the Pandora’s box. In all there were six bands protesting in different areas, two were highly publicised. The major complaints were against Minshall and Legends.

How were the rules distributed?

You cannot register unless you attest that you have received a copy of the rules. There is also a separate signature required in the space where it says you will abide by the rules. The form lays out regulations, procedures and general-purpose information, then concludes with the penalties and the agreement that the judges’ decision is final. It is clear and unambiguous and every band went through the identical process.

Why then are some bandleaders saying they knew nothing of the relevant rule?

What they are not saying is that this year, the Carnival season was short and because of other factors, registration at the mas camps was slow during January. It was only in the final week of Carnival that some large bands knew for sure they would not end up being medium-sized, so many of them did not register on time; waiting on the final estimate of the size of their bands.

In fact, one very vocal large band registered Carnival Saturday evening, while the Junior Parade was in progress, so you could imagine the kind of confusion that could produce. Perhaps in their haste, one or two of them forgot to sign the form, but the procedure, I am assured, did not waver in terms of giving out the regulations.

How would you respond to calls for your resignation?

I can understand the current wave of emotion, but Richard Afong had nothing to do with the outcome of the review committee’s deliberations, so if that is the basis on which one or two individuals are asking me to step down, it is not valid.

You will note, though, that the complainers have been shifting the basis of their contention everytime a claim is shot down. First they claimed my presence there was a conflict of interest. When they discovered my role, they demanded a new exercise, then they found another reason.

One group is saying the committee should have deducted money rather than points, another one is saying don’t do that. When they realise one ploy isn’t working, they come up with a new thing. Somebody should find out how bands that didn’t receive the rules managed to write letters complaining about other bands that broke rules. The complaint varies to suit unfolding responses. They are misrepresenting the facts and I fear they are not doing it by accident.

What then is the future of the Parade of the Bands?

It hinges on discipline and order. It can’t be that after agreeing on certain rules, the Carnival Tuesday jumbie possesses them and regulations suddenly seem to be the work of some cruel devil and the bad-john thing emerges.

I suppose now they know the Compliance Committee is no longer a mere formality, there will be a different approach in the future. Whatever the outcome of the present impasse, the signal has been sent and I feel confident next year’s parade and contests will deliver a better and more disciplined product.

But while bandleaders jostle for prizes, there are other crucial issues. It is my view we should be spending our time seeking more support from police in weeding out uncostumed revellers and trying to secure better facilities for women during the parade.

I don’t know if people realise the cost of a security guard on Carnival day is about $150 and some bands have up to 300 guards. That’s $45,000 in wages alone for security, then you supply them with uniforms, food and other amenities. Poison brought in a high-priced expert and even that didn’t seem to work.

We would also like to be able to get some continuity in talking with the authorities, but they keep having elections and presenting us with new faces, so the discussion never really advances. We are hearing nothing about keeping the marauding hordes out of bands, so our women get abused and the snatch and grab gang operated openly this year, almost as if they were a legitimate State agency.

The people need more education about Carnival, so it won’t be seen as just another chance for lawlessness. On our part, it must be clear to our membership that we have reached the limit of gentle persuasion and the line has been drawn. We have heard all the excuses and in the end, they amount to nothing more than justification of indiscipline. And that, my dear friend, simply will not do.

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