Editorial: 61 years and we can’t get it right?

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This year marks the 60th anniversary of our Carnival celebrations. That makes it the 61st time that we are putting on the show that we now bill as the “greatest summer festival” but for some reason, we can’t seem to get it right. 
We understand that Carnival is a complex, expensive and ever-changing beast but after doing something sixty times, one would think that we should be able to have a better grasp of how to get this thing done right. We have searched our minds to try to understand how we find ourselves in the same mess every year and, as far as we can see, it comes down to the fact that we do not treat Carnival as a business. We wrap Carnival in government bureaucracy and that leads this very important event down the road of inefficiency and disorganization.  That time is long past (ALP-days, UPP-days, nowadays) for us to get experienced, professional event management employed to run our carnival.
Carnival is widely touted as our biggest single economic event and it plays a significant role in keeping the economy turning over during the off-season.  Just take a moment and think of what Antigua & Barbuda would be like if there was no Carnival.  When the tourist leave after Sailing Week, our bit of paradise would turn into a ghost town.  Even outside of Carnival, think of all the pre-Carnival activities. All those glorious fetes wouldn’t exist.  There would be no need for all the lights and sound, all the decorations, all the clothes, all the drinks and eats. 
There would be no major draw for our extended family living abroad to return – few reasons for our regional brothers and sisters to visit, and even fewer reasons for international visitors to brave our blistering summer heat for a vacation.  Simply put, Carnival fills a very important role in our society.  It may be more economic than cultural, at this point, but important nonetheless.
Having established that, we are disappointed that every year we hear similar complaints about the management of Carnival.  We expect a bit of bacchanal – after all, it is Carnival – but we do not expect the administrative blunders to continue year after year.  Most recently, we heard the Event Production Group was threatening to suspend all services to the Antigua and Barbuda Festivals Commission if debts, due since 2011, we not settled in a timely manner.
The group that comprises Stonewall Reloaded International, Raeburn Generator, Services, Theatrical Lighting and Lava International provides the commission with the stage for Carnival City, lighting, sound and generator services. Apparently, the group’s frustrations have boiled over and they are unwilling to continue to carry the burden of Carnival on their backs.
They are not the only ones. The Pan Association has also vented its frustrations and issued ultimatums regarding pay, the stage and a host of other issues. And, we dare say, it would not take a lot of digging to expand the list of disgruntled carnival contributors/participants.
The problem for the current minister responsible for national festivals, including our beloved Carnival, Minister EP Chet Greene, is that the buck stops with him.  While some of the debt pre-dates the Minister’s tenure, which began in 2014, Government is continuous and there has been no clear demonstration that the Government is taking a different approach to managing the business of Carnival.  And while the Minister has seemingly attempted to delegate more, that move has appeared to have betrayed him as he was unaware of the development with the Event Production Group.  Would it not be apparent to those with this significant information to inform the minister so that he had some opportunity to remedy the situation?
At some point, the Government must realize the business importance of Carnival and the need for professional management.  If we continue to simply manage the festival through appointees then the cycle will continue.  As an aside, we feel that it is worth mentioning that just because someone has the experience of being involved in Carnival for many years does not qualify them for the key positions.  In fact, some have argue that they have been part of the problem in the past and that alone disqualifies them as being shepherds of the future. In any case, this is not to suggest that we have to bring in any foreign talent to take the key positions because we believe that there is a sizeable brain trust in Antigua & Barbuda when it comes to putting on big events.  
If we take the decision to throw out the politics that has always stifled Carnival then we are sure that we can make significant progress towards a more sustainable future. Get key managers that are judged on performance and not politics and we can reach a time when most of the negative issues will become ole’ talk of yesteryear. 

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