Even with very limited expertise in mathematics, many of us know that a recurring decimal is one that repeats itself forever. Regretably, we here in Antigua and Barbuda are again faced with a vexing recurring decimal situation. We are talking about the weird way in which our performers, mas’ makers, costume designers, vendors and support staff are treated by the Festivals Commission. These folks all help to make our annual summer bash the grand affair that it often is; they devote a great deal of time, effort and thought to whatever they are doing. They vest an enormous amount of personal pride in their carnival contribution, and their productions are priceless. It is difficult, if not impossible, to put a money value on them. Of course, most of the participants and stakeholders lose serious money in the carnival endeavor, but they do it every year nonetheless, for the sheer love and joy of it all.
So when the winners and the support staff and the vendors are to be paid, we scratch our heads at why, first, the Carnival Committee and the Carnival Development Committee back in the day, and now the Festivals Commission, seem to have such a difficult time in paying the people their break-even money? In the name of all that is good, why the hell can’t the Festivals Commission do right by those who work so hard to make sure that we have an enjoyable Carnival?
One of the latest non-payment brouhahas had to do with the Junior Calypso Monarch, Tyreke ‘King Vicious’ Lewis, and his credible threat to boycott carnival 2019 if he was not paid his monies for last year’s victory. Apparently, the soca performers were equally disgruntled, and they too threatened a boycott. Last year, it was the panmen who threatened a boycott of panorama, though that had to do with the specifications and acoustics of the stage on panorama night. Word is that this year, they are still unhappy with the Festivals Commission. And the year before that, it was the vendors. At one time, it was Stonewall who threatened to remove their equipment if they were not paid by a date certain. Heck, every year, it seems as though the vendors or some other entity, have had to raise a hue and cry for monies owed. Indeed, just before every carnival, it is the same song and dance – carnival stakeholders going deeper and deeper into debt, just to make our carnival the “Caribbean’s greatest summer festival,” and the Carnival Development Committee (previously) or the Festivals Commission (now) does not seem to give a damn when it comes to the small question of remuneration for services rendered.
Apparently, we can open the purse strings for all sorts of pet projects and vanity schemes, but nothing for our cultural extravaganza. And this disrespect and mistreatment of those who make carnival is not new. At various times back in the 1970’s and 1980’s Short Shirt, Swallow, King Obstinate and others have had to raise a ruckus in order to get paid. So too, have mas’ makers and other participants.
Here’s what Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst said earlier this year: “I believe several entertainers have not been paid, and several mas’ troupes have not received all what they are owed. [Festivals Minister] Daryll Matthew has repeatedly spoken to Cabinet about the need to find ways to ensure that those who give their service receive what they are owed,”
As recently as about two months ago, the president of the Mas’ Association, Bryan Thompson, confirmed that they had not been paid. And just four days ago, there was this recurring foolishness, that we alluded to earlier in this text: “Another threat to boycott an event on the Carnival calendar has reportedly been pulled back after the Festivals Commission allegedly made good on outstanding payments to member bands of the Antigua and Barbuda Pan Association (ABPA) late yesterday. Earlier yesterday, the ABPA issued a press statement, informing the media that due to the “blatant disrespect towards the pan fraternity” from the Antigua and Barbuda Festivals Commission (ABFC), “the decision has been made to withdraw all member bands from the National Panorama Competition scheduled for 3rd August.” It added that with “Antigua’s carnival fast approaching, it seems like déjà vu all over again as the ABPA locks horns with the ABFC yet again and awaits the complete settlement of Carnival 2018 monies.”
Which begs a most perplexing question: Why is this seemingly mundane exercise – that of ‘paying the workman who is worthy of his hire,’ so confoundedly difficult? Is this rocket science? Because if it is, the Einstein and Newton part of it escapes us. Perhaps our good prime minister, he of legendary mathematical wizardry, can come to the people and explain why it is so tricky to pay those who contribute to carnival that which is rightfully theirs. With all the money supposedly(?)floating around in our country, why is it so difficult settle old debts and start with a clean slate? Why the everlasting welshing on monies owed and the perennial deadbeat behaviour of the Festivals Commission? And this deadbeat and callous attitude transcends administrations. Non-payment for services rendered has been a disturbing hallmark of this administration, and that administration, and that other administration. Seemingly, they don’t give a damn!
So here we go again. Strike up the band for “The song that never ends / Yes, it goes on and on my friend . . ., ad infinitum. . . In the meantime, even as calypsonians are fine-tuning their melodies and honing their voices, Antiguans and Barbudans are scanning the horizon, because they know that “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Sadly, ‘the fat lady’ is nowhere in sight. Talk about World without end!”