By ADRIAN GIBSON
THE Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has evolved into one of the most disgraceful shams we have seen thus far for the year.
The organisers or, dare I say “disorganisers”, are shameless and downright brazen in the face of criticism and questions from a discerning public.
Today, the public knows that when it comes to this Carnival, to quote those famous words of Malcolm X: “Oh, I say and I say it again, ya been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”
Yes, we were had and bamboozled and run amok. No wonder the statistical breakdowns of the gains and losses of the Carnival was kept under wraps for so long, certainly long in excess of the promised 21-day period.
On the face of it, it seems clear that Paul Major - chairman of the Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) - has seemingly taken us all for dodo birds.
Though he revealed information that was uninspiring and worrisome as we got no return from the Carnival, he stood by his projection that the inaugural festival increased Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP) by more than $50 million, with – according to him – the event having a direct economic impact of $19 million (including $5.5m in Grand Bahama). I’m flabbergasted.
$11 million of taxpayers monies was spent and the government failed to secure a return!
According to Mr Major, for its over-budgeted $11.3m investment in the festivities, the government reaped $8.3m in combined direct and tax revenues, with the latter providing $6.7m of that sum. The direct revenue, which totalled $1.6m, largely came from ticket sales and cash sponsorships.
Mr Major also confirmed that efforts were still being made to secure payments for some vendors who reportedly lost money during the event – a sum estimated to cost the government about $40,000.
The festival attracted about 115,000 spectators or participants (according to police) while 7,208 people were employed and 880 small and medium enterprises benefitted. More than $800,000 was directly spent on Bahamian musicians, according to the Commission’s report, with 1,169 entertainers engaged.
Cost overruns amounted to $3.8 million. This, Mr Major explained, was due to several factors, such as the hosting of the Grand Bahama kick-off weekend, which was not initially part of the planned festivities; the construction of the Cultural Village as well as art pavilions and subsidies for Road Fever Bands due to sluggish costume sales.
MURDER IN THE BAHAMAS
THERE are a startling number of murders happening in the Bahamas.
When I wrote this column, the official murder count for the year was 88. Who knows what happened overnight. This means that we have eclipsed every previous record in terms of the rate of the accrual of dead bodies by murder.
What’s alarming is that there has been no significant comment from the Minister of National Security, the Prime Minister or any other politician on this frightening trend.
They are hoping that we have either become numb or are not noticing the trend. Had we not been subjected to vociferous, loud and incessant promises to reduce crime during the 2012 campaign, this perhaps wouldn’t be so striking. But, we wonder whether they have capitulated in the war on crime and have decided it’s no longer worth talking about.
Murder, violent crime, gunshot wounds and stabbings remain the order of the day in the Bahamas. It is frightening. What’s more frightening is that it’s no longer a topic of major concern for our political leaders when it is a topic of greatest concern for everyday Bahamians.
The question is whether there is a threshold beyond which any specific attention will be given to crime and the approach to it, whether it will be a topic of consideration for an address by the PM, or whether he intends to shuffle the team charged with dealing with crime, or whether – as Bahamians – we will have to suck it up, standby and helplessly watch the murder count rise?
Some 30,000 spectators attended Grand Bahama’s events, and 85,000 spectators and participants attended the New Providence events. It was estimated that about 900 tourists attended the events. The total expenditure for the event was $12,947,650, more than the government’s budgeted $9m. The government spent about $11.3m and the rest was covered by sponsorships.
The BNFC press statement said: “The festival generated approximately $1.6 million in direct revenues, a shortfall of $5.9 million based on projected revenue. This significant shortfall is accounted for primarily by the lack of international sponsorship revenue, which had been projected at $5 million, and ticket sales, which did not materialise as the headliner was not announced in time and many tickets were bundled together and given away for promotional purposes and provided complimentary to partners such as the Junkanoos.”
Justifying the cost overruns and upholding his belief that the carnival had a $50 million impact on the economy, Mr Major gave the world this stunning statement: “The GDP impact that I said will be over $50 million, I stand by that number, but I don’t want to talk to that yet because we have Deloitte and Touche doing an economic/GDP impact study which will be ready in a few weeks. I stand by that number because whatever is spent directly there is some multiplier effect that translates that into a GDP impact. It’s somewhere between three and seven per cent as a multiplier effect. Whatever the foreign input is is multiplied by as much as seven times, and for things that are local, input could be anywhere from one to four and that’s all about money being recycled in the economy.”
Was Mr Major’s remuneration a major bill that was paid from the Carnival’s budget? How much was Mr Major paid, if anything?
It is clear that Mr Major is justifying his effort. He is releasing statements and holding press conferences that make the entire event seem worthwhile, that the loss was worth it. No fisherman ever says that his fish is stink!
For Paul Major to say that direct revenue amounted to $1.6m ($1.2m in Nassau and $300,000 in Grand Bahama), but at the same time wishes to claim that these events had a $50m impact on the economy, could there be a sense of delirium about this?
To say that we had $19m of direct economic activity ($13.6m in Nassau and $5.5 in Grand Bahama), whilst at the same time having an $11.3m ($12.9m minus $1.6m) loss is nothing short of stunning. To say that we have had a $50 million impact because money is being re-spent and circulated in our economy ... what kind of foolishness is this?
Let’s do the maths. $11.3m (which is the government’s expenditure) minus $1.6m is $9.7m. And that’s without counting the additional monies raised from private sponsors that took the overall carnival expenditure up to $12.9m.
Look, we had a big party, lots were spent, there were no heads in beds and it has become a financial disaster. I don’t need a profit and loss statement from Deloitte and Touche to tell me that.
When it comes to the handling of taxpayers money, credibility and candour must be the order of the day and one is left with many questions over this most recent episode.
The Bahamian public ought to review the return on the investment both from a financial and cultural point of view. We ought to determine whether we believe that the expenditure was worth it and, by all accounts, clearly many Bahamians do not. In an environment where we are hard pressed to find funds for more important things, I don’t think we got value for money. Forensic accounting is desperately needed. The figures simply do not add up.
If one were to ask if a $11m investment of the Bahamian people for this event at this time is worth it, many people would say no!
When Mr Major and others start to use derivatives relative to spending more than $11m contrasted to $19m in direct economic activity, then all the government has to do – if one was to go by these voodoo economic theories – is to borrow $200m, give it away and have a $1 billion dollar economic impact. Or, maybe – by Mr Major’s theory – they should tax the public some more, then give it away and maybe we would see a multiplier effect of $1 billion. But, really, what rubbish, Mr Major!
Where are the local economists in all of this? Why hasn’t anyone debunked this train of thought? Perhaps, they don’t want to get into a game of spinning propaganda where clearly there seems to be an attempt to paint a pretty picture of something that is nothing short of a financial misadventure. It is like putting lipstick on a pig and expecting the pig to become this beautiful, exotic lady ... no, it’s simply a pig with lipstick!
The execution of the carnival was poor. In terms of the planning for the headliner, the international promotions and marketing and putting actual heads in beds, it was dreadful. It now seems that the goalposts have shifted.
In early 2015, the goal was to put heads in beds and inject new money into the economy. Yesterday, Mr Major was reported as saying: “Our main goals for the festival were to create an economic stimulus within the cultural sector; expand our tourist product offering; develop a framework for indigenous cultural production; create a platform that exposed Bahamian music to the world and revolutionised the entertainment industry; promote Bahamian entrepreneurship; and foster multi-sector economic impacts. Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival 2015 successfully accomplished those goals.”
This is interesting. Does anyone recall these being the goals enunciated previously? Or could utterances amount to mere prevarication and revisionism?
Frankly, for the Junkanoo Carnival, we earned somewhere in the range of 10 cents on the dollar.
As the Carnival went on, we simultaneously had and still have people with issues that should have been more important, which the government pledged to address. Whilst millions are flushed down the drain (or down the pockets of a selected few), whatever happened to mortgage relief, rental assistance, jobs, the promised reduction in electricity costs, promises of improved social assistance of people who are struggling daily, particularly in light of VAT? The net loss to the Public Treasury of this failed Carnival initiative is more than twice the annual increment in social assistance.
Shame, shame, shame! This is nothing short of a disgrace. This entire mess speaks to a disconnect between rhetoric and execution! We are watching documented incompetence.
What’s worse, I won’t be surprised to read a letter from a rabid Carnival supporter (likely a person writing under a pseudonym) speaking to the virtue of the Carnival, filled with hyperbole and talking about the value of the Carnival in millions of fantasy dollars. Perhaps monopoly dollars!
The Carnival should not be put on again unless it is better managed, there’s a strict adherence to a budget and it pays for itself, ie on the basis of a simple profit versus loss analysis.
We can only say, notwithstanding the mental and fiscal acrobatics of Paul Major, that the Junkanoo Carnival was handled disastrously.
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