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Major’s carnival mathematics

Published: Aug 24, 2017

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Dear Editor,


Paul Major, the former chairman of the Junkanoo Carnival boondoggle, is a banker by profession and supposedly he knows a thing or two about numbers.

He spent a lot of time in Trinidad and Tobago understudying carnival there so perhaps he learned that the Trinis like the expression “doltish” because that’s the only way to explain his flawed mathematics used to justify wasting public money on a mimicked faux celebration.

Over the years Major took a trailer-load of musicians and culturalists to Trinidad to see how they play mas there. Their National Carnival Commission no doubt would have sat him down and explained that carnival has been around so long in Trinidad that it is an institution as germane to the Trini identity as Junkanoo is to us.

Major thought he could take a festival that was 300 years in the making for Trinidad and make it a uniquely Bahamian experience in just three years. The Trinis have another word for a person who gets taken advantage of very easily: bobolee.

Major went up against Paul Thompson a Trini-Bahamian who is a card-carrying carnivalist who knows whence the Trini carnival bands come and who plays mas better than whom. In such a dust-up the smart money has to be on Thompson.

The allegation is that the government of Trinidad and Tobago spent US$134 million on carnival celebrations in Port of Spain, San Fernando and Tobago over the last three years. The real number spent was $114 million, but for some people when it comes to government money, what’s the odd $20 million difference between friends?

By contrast we spent $25 million in the same period and Major’s argument is that this was great value for money to the treasury.

Trinidad’s Central Statistical Office reported that in 2016 a total of 35,483 people visited Trinidad over the carnival period. Not surprisingly the vast majority of them were Trinis returning home to celebrate. Just 3,267 “tourists” were recorded and it’s a safe bet that two thirds of them came from three Caribbean countries – the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados.

In 2015 the government in Trinidad allocated TT$340 million for carnival (about $44 million). Faced with budget constraints as the price of oil started plummeting, they decreased the budget to $40 million in 2016 and even more drastically to $30 million this year.

Given the size of their carnival compared to ours, it is plain to see that the Trinidadian taxpayers got more bang for their bucks than we did over the same period, even if you capitalize a chunk of our expenditure as “start-up” costs.

With a population of 1.3 million people, the cost-per-Trini taxpayer to host 2015’s carnival was $32. That same year every taxpayer here paid $34.

The major (no pun intended) difference between Trinidad and us is that they use the government’s money to prime the pump to get the economic ball rolling in the private sector.

Costume-making, big truck mobile studios, elaborate outdoor stages and party planning are big business and the private sector pitches in to reap the rewards. Nobody works in Trinidad between Saturday and Wednesday of carnival, so all other economic output takes a hit.

I have no doubt that economic activity is generated here from the Junkanoo Carnival. We, like copy-cats in Miami, Nottinghill, New York and Toronto, all try to outdo the mother carnival in Trinidad, with varying degrees of success.

Trinidadians push their government to export carnival because it is good for business. Many of the skimpy costumes on display here were conceived, designed and manufactured by the masters in Trinidad, no doubt earning a tidy sum of foreign exchange for them.

But for us it defeats the purpose of carnival which, when last I checked, was to boost tourism and foreign exchange earnings here.

Spending to promote art and culture is always a good investment. But spending public money to promote someone else’s culture looks like plain old “follow-fashion” to me.

By the way, if we are going to keep up this charade at least let’s stop calling it Junkanoo Carnival. It has nothing to do with Junkanoo and it will give some people the false impression that if they have seen carnival they have seen Junkanoo.


– The Graduate

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