Editorial: Looking back to look forward for Carnival

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Every year, we give our recap of Carnival and every year, it sounds pretty much the same.  This year, we are going to take a different approach because there have been some improvements in certain areas and they need highlighting.  At the same time, there was more of the same throughout Carnival and those issues need addressing.
Let us first compliment the Royal Police Force of Antigua & Barbuda (RPFAB) and the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for the job that they did during the 60th Anniversary of Carnival.  There was definitely a heightened police presence on the street and we felt safer because of it.  And while many can say that the police could improve their service to the nation, we should not forget that they did improve their service at Carnival this year and that is movement in the right direction. 
The EMS personnel were also very visible and this added to the improved feeling of safety on the street.  It was especially pleasing to see the EMS personnel, like the police, on bicycles.  We heard more than one tourist positively comment on how “smart” that move was.  We are big fans of bicycle patrols and have lobbied for various public departments, especially the police, to increase their street presence by deploying the simple bicycle as a key means of transportation.  They are efficient, affordable and extremely practical for our city and other small communities.   Plus, the closer one-on-one contact helps to tear down barriers that promote an “us versus them” mentality. 
And speaking of breaking down barriers, congratulations to Claudette ‘CP’ Peters on her history-making Road March title for 2017 – first female road march title holder, ever!  Congratulations also to Panache Steel Orchestra and Zahra Lake for their history setting night – first band in Antigua & Barbuda’s history to feature a female arranger in a national Panorama final.  Well done ladies!
On the flip side of these positives, disorganisation reigned in 2017.   Shows were late.  Bands were late.  Judges were late, or did not show up. Etc. Etc. Etc.  And when shows actually got started and when bands got on the road, there were long gaps in the entertainment.  Sixty years on and we cannot overcome the disorganisation that has become a mainstay of Carnival.  If the sound of sucking teeth was recorded as a tune, it would have definitely bumped Claudette’s “Out Deh” for Road March. 
We are unsure what the key contributors were but lack of communication and disorganisation within the Ministry and the Festivals Commission seemed to set the tone for what occurred on the road and on stage.  Not to point fingers at anyone in particular but there seemed to be a disconnect between the main players. 
That disconnect was evident during carnival (one need only think of the flag fiasco) and continued afterward.  One day after Carnival, in a wrap-up segment on OBSERVER AM, the Minister of Culture and National Festivals, EP Chet Greene, announced that Maurice Merchant was no longer the Chairman of the Festivals Commission, with immediate effect.  He said, “Effectively today, we are on the hunt for a new chairman. Maurice was due to leave last year but I was able to convince him not to do so but we have come to an agreement that he would leave at the end of carnival this year.” For the record, Carnival ended on August 8.
Somebody should have told the two-year-festivals-chairman Merchant that bit of information because later that same day, he released a press statement in which he signed as “Chairman ABFC”.   In that statement, he released plans for a post-mortem on the recently concluded Carnival celebrations.  Merchant seemed oblivious that he was supposed to have been out the door. 
He spoke glowingly about Carnival 2017 and boasted that over the coming months, the Commission, under his chairmanship, will conclude preparations for the Independence celebrations, VC Bird Day and National Heroes Day.  Overall, it was rather embarrassing.  Either the Chairman was unaware that his position was vacant or the Minister was unaware that Merchant was continuing as Chairman. 
Be that as it may, it is time that we institute better communication techniques and procedures to ensure a smoother running of Carnival.  “The Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival” cannot continue to be promoted as such, if it is mired in the muck of disorganisation.  And to be fair, there are some things outside of the control of the Festivals Commission but not outside of the body’s ability to address them so as to minimise the impact. 
Some have suggested fines for lateness or no-shows.  Others have suggested disqualification for bringing Carnival into disrepute (yes, that is what was said).  While others believe that organisers should be scored and paid according to a set of criteria; with a heavy emphasis on timeliness and overall spectator satisfaction.  
Whatever the solutions, we hope that some are found during the 2017 Carnival Review which may begin as early as this weekend … if there is a chairperson at the helm.
 We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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