By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday challenged the Government to reveal whether it “knew from inception” that Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival would be a loss-maker, adding that the taxpayer was “footing the bill for a party”.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the economic impact data produced for the second edition of Junkanoo Carnival suggested that the Christie administration had made “a bad financial decision”.
And he described as “amazing” the assertion by Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) chairman, Paul Major, that Junkanoo Carnival was never intended to produce a profit.
While the Christie administration’s subsidy was down by 28.3 per cent year-over-year, falling from $11.3 million to $8.1 million, this represents almost $20 million in public monies devoted to the first two Junkanoo Carnivals.
The Commission’s own report also showed that, in return for its $8.111 million subsidy, the Government received $6.347 million in tax revenue- meaning it had to spend $1.28 for every $1 it earned. Ultimately, it suffered a near $1.8 million ‘loss’.
Mr McCartney said the Bahamian taxpayer subsidy underwriting Junkanoo Carnival seemed hard to justify given the Treasury’s strained financial circumstances, and ever-increasing $6.778 billion national debt.
“The Bahamian people are the ones paying for this event,” he told Tribune Business, “and they’re now saying it’s not meant to make a profit. That should not bode well for us as Bahamians. We honestly should not accept it.”
Noting that next year’s Junkanoo Carnival was likely to coincide with the dates for a general election, Mr McCartney added: “It will get the people all hyped up in a party mood, but that party comes to an end, and they will have to move forward and on with their daily lives.
“It’s the Bahamian people who will end up paying the bill for this party. It seems this is a bad financial decision by the Government; they’re not making wise financial decisions on behalf of the Bahamian people in these difficult times.”
The DNA leader also questioned whether the Government, in launching Junkanoo Carnival, had stated the event was ultimately intended to be profitable - a position that has now been contradicted by Mr Major.
The BNFC chairman this week said Junkanoo Carnival was intended to provide an economic and cultural stimulus to the private sector, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who participated or provided goods and services to the event.
The data, though, shows that Junkanoo Carnival is effectively a ‘wealth transfer’ from the Bahamian taxpayer to those SMEs and the persons who are hired to fill temporary jobs in the run-up to the event.
“It amazes me how they say they will not waste money, and they’re going to spend millions of dollars to have fun,” Mr McCartney said of the Government, questioning whether the Prime Minister or Minister of Tourism agreed with Mr Major’s position.
“One can conclude that Junkanoo Carnival is not a good business deal for the country. If you are not going to make a profit, there’s a difficulty,” he added.
“The question to the Government is whether or not they knew from inception it was not going to make a profit. I’m very curious as to what the answer is. We cannot afford, in these hard financial times, to be losing money.”
Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism, had initially suggested that Junkanoo Carnival’s 2016 budget would be just over $3 million, although he wisely added the caveat that this might increase. The BNFC chairman later predicted it would be around $7 million.
Mr Major earlier this week said no government in the world generated a financial profit from sponsoring and underwriting carnival-type events, pointing to Trinidad as an example.
He has previously stated that Carnival’s main economic goal is to attract thousands of tourists to the Bahamas, thereby boosting the resort and associated industries at a time when business is relatively weak following the peak winter season.
When it came to tourist arrivals, the data suggests that Junkanoo Carnival’s impact was in the hundreds, rather than the thousands.
While May air arrivals to Nassau/Paradise Island were up 6 per cent year-over-year, the Commission’s data showed an 11.5 per cent increase for Carnival weekend, with 12,006 compared to 10,767 the year before.
On Grand Bahama, while air arrivals were down 20 per cent for May, the Festival Commission said there was a 65 per cent jump on Carnival weekend - although the gross rise was less than 800 persons.
Some 14,799 Carnival attendees or 24 per cent, out of the total 60,700, were said to have been tourists. Visitors accounted for one out of three attendees on Grand Bahama.
Mr McCartney, though, challenged the air arrivals figures, querying how many were tourists and how many were Bahamians travelling from other islands.
He added that talk of a $70 million GDP impact from Carnival should be “taken with a grain of salt”.