The debate over Carnival in Tobago is becoming more heated with a cultural activist on the island insisting that mas band leaders should not get more funds.
Terrance Sandiford, former Tobago region chair of the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), said the money being demanded by the Tobago Band Leaders’ Association should instead be invested in Carnival in October. He said there has been wastage over the years which must end if the industry on the island is the reach its full potential.
There is currently an impasse between the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and the Tobago Band Leaders Association, whose interim chairman Gemma Bedlow-Dennis is demanding more than the $1.3 million currently allocated to mas bands.
However, Sandiford is querying why more money is being demanded. “To be brutally honest, they should not get no money, they should not get no money. If they are getting money it should be an investment for the 2023 Tobago Carnival because they would have gotten over a period of 20 years nearly quarter of a billion dollars and there is nothing to show for it,” he said.
Last week, Bedlow-Dennis threatened to protest over the allocation from the THA for next month’s celebrations. She warned that if the matter is not addressed and there are no consultations, band leaders will not participate in Carnival.
But THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, who is seeking to develop the island’s festival in October, remained resolute about this year’s allocation for the mas makers. Sandiford supports Augustine’s decision.
“Carnival is an industry all over the world. You can make money from Carnival but you have all sorts of people jumping up and portraying this image that they know about planning and doing Carnival and they wasting Government’s money and the Assembly’s money, 90 per cent of the band leaders in Tobago are hustlers,” he said.
Sandiford said efforts and resources must be directed to Tobago’s own Carnival celebrations to position the island advantageously as a tourist destination.
Head of the Tobago Business Chamber, Martin George, has also endorsed the Chief Secretary’s plans to move away from pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations.
He said, “If persons are worried about the loss of opportunities or prize monies and competitions, all we have to do is pivot and have those things focused on a massive celebration in October. So in other words you don’t have to worry about the crumbs in February because we’ll have a bigger cake where everyone will get a bigger slice of the pie in October.”
George said the current discord between the THA and the Tobago Band Leaders Association must be addressed if the island is to mark its own days of mas and revelry.
“I’m not a band leader or a band owner but to my understanding I thought this was a situation of free enterprise where basically you invested your money as a band leader, you took your risks, you produce your costumes and then you try to sell them to the public,” he said.
“I didn’t know you were funded to then be able to make the costumes to then pocket the profits. When you talking about band leaders, who are basically business persons, one is not sure this is really good for free enterprise and building the resilience and robustness that a business enterprise should have.”
The Tobago Band Leaders’ Association is yet to respond to the Chief Secretary’s comments or state the position of its members on plans for this year’s Carnival.