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I told you so

By Terry Joseph
February 08, 2003

In precisely the five-year period outlined in a lonely 1998 prediction by this columnist, we have seen the complete collapse of a sweetheart arrangement initiated by the Government of the day and Carnival's Special Interest Groups (SIGS).

But this is not an application for psychic status, nor does it enhance my chance of sitting at the head table at next month's Mensa Society dinner. In fact, any fool could (and should) have seen it coming.

Back then, a series of clandestine meetings between an inter-ministerial team and SIGS Heads resulted in the replacement of National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Roy Augustus by Carlos John and total "divestment" (boy, did they hate that word) of festival production responsibilities to the groups.

Pan Trinbago founder and its first president, Mr Augustus' ruling that the steelband body could not use the paddock area for a Saturday evening fund-raiser to help Tobago earthquake victims (having previously rented the Grand Stand to the Anglican Church for the same weekend), led to confrontation with Culture Minister Dr Daphne Phillips. Invoking the prerogative of superior office, she overturned his decision, that episode widening an existing rift between them and precipitating his removal.

The "conspiracy" (they didn't like that word much either) between the inter-ministerial team and the SIGS gave seniors of Pan Trinbago, the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) and the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) full reign in the running of festival events relevant to their artistic disciplines; a swashbuckling adventure Government agreed to bankroll.

I protested at every sequence, both as journalist and Carnival expert, arguing that none of the SIGS had a history of success at staging large-scale public events and more importantly, the new arrangement would make them employer and employee simultaneously, in an environment historically conducive to conflict between those categories.

Being evicted from (or insulted at) news conferences organised by the Culture Ministry, NCC or the SIGS became standard for this reporter. In one memorable episode, Mr John shouted down my question about what would happen if the new approach resulted in losses.

Summoning his most strident tone, Mr John said: "I think I have some integrity in financial matters. I have seen—and we have gone over—financial projections from the three groups and there is no way they could lose money. In fact, I want to compliment them on such comprehensive proposals."

The gorge between yours truly and Carnival administration widened. Dr Phillips even read into Hansard that "a particular reporter (read yours truly) from a particular newspaper (read Express) was nothing more than a prophet of doom and gloom." Her colleagues laughed heartily that day in Parliament and poked fun at me thereafter when we met socially.

No one weighed my argument, some openly calling it sour grapes, referring to my former status as NCBA chairman and consequent seat on the NCC Board. Others remarked upon my chairmanship role in the founding of TUCO, suggesting I always wanted to run that organisation's business. All the slurs came when my primary concern was no more sinister than wanting proper administration of what is, after all, our national festival.

One particularly troubling element of the deal was that the SIGS would receive diminishing subventions over the five years, each grant being 20 per cent less than the year previous, leaving them with no financial support from The State by Carnival 2003. "It would not work," I said at a news conference, only to be scoffed at and called unflattering names. "They would be asking for even more by then," I defiantly opined.

My conciliatory suggestion then that, over the same period, Ministry technocrats work alongside persons elected by the SIGS to improve the administrative skills of the latter group was laughed away by both parties, the NCC accusing me of denigrating the various organisations and group leaders declaring themselves ready and equal to the task, sneering at the apprenticeship concept.

Well, it has all come to pass and with the absolutely undesirable residual of acrimonious conflict between the parties. As you read this, a war between the NCBA and NCC is still in progress, the battle between TUCO and Pan Trinbago resulted in the cancellation of this year's Pan/Kaiso contest and the joust between the steelband body and NCC over something as innocuous as the direction from which bands would enter next Sunday's Panorama semi-final went the distance.

The only measurable product of their stubbornness has been a five-year suspension of progress in the production and marketing of Carnival which, given advances made in the administration of similar festivals abroad, counts as a setback of major impact. While today's National Security Minister is still wondering about enacting legislation to protect costumed revellers, several countries have meanwhile implemented relevant laws in the same pursuit.

So while my late mother, Geraldine, would cringe at the prospect of her darling son sticking an index finger in each ear and wagging his tongue at those who found me overbearing five years ago, today I beg her indulgence to make such a face and say: "I told you so!"

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