By ADRIAN GIBSON
The delayed Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival Economic Impact Report is yet again demonstrative of the lack of transparency that has come to define this government’s term in office. Even more glaring, the voodoo economics and glaring mismanagement leaves one to wonder if the government, and the organisers of the event, collectively view us as chumps who they could intellectually insult without a resounding rebuke.
After much ado, the report was finally released this week. Officials from the Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) revealed that the total cost of the event was $9.8m with a government subsidy of $8.1m. Nearly $10m on a glorified street party!
Quite frankly, I believe that the books were “cooked” for a few months before the lesser figures were settled upon. Is it just me or does anyone else see the selective use of figures? I would like to see the raw data post-haste.
According to the BNFC, there were reductions in total expenses and the government’s subsidy, highlighting increases in air arrivals, attendees, employment and involvement by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) throughout the country.
Referring to its impact on the tourism economy as a “substantive improvement”, officials estimated a 56 per cent increase in tourism-related economic activity such as hotel room revenue, stopover and cruise passenger expenditures. Further, the BNFC said despite a down month for international arrivals in Grand Bahama, arrivals for the festival’s kick-off weekend on the island were up by roughly 65 per cent.
Tourist arrivals in Nassau for the event were also said to be up by 11.5 per cent, an increase in the monthly year-over-year average for May. Officials also claimed that tourist related expenditures increased in 2016 due to a 79 per cent increase in tourist attendance, the direct employment of more than 1,200 workers, and the indirect employment of another 1,600 Bahamians.
What was the increase in tourists though? There is no great increase if the numbers move from 35 visitors to 50. The methodology must be quite dodgy!
What’s more, officials also projected a $70m impact on the national gross domestic product (GDP) from carnival - $10m less than 2015 estimates.
So, again we have an event that was over budget and undoubtedly subject to apparently corrupt or, at the very least, opaque practices.
This year’s carnival was forecasted to cost about $7m. Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe publicly stated his confidence that the festival would stay on budget this year. Even more, Mr Wilchcombe had said that the government would only inject around $3m into the event, though asserting that the final figures were still being worked on.
The carnival has not given $10m worth of value back to the Bahamian society/economy. The concept is simply daft and representative of the reckless spending that is synonymous with the present government. They have demonstrated no fiscal responsibility.
What business has the carnival spurred? This is an insanely ludicrous fete put on to “tief” taxpayers’ money. The carnival has become a slush fund for cronies, friends, families and lovers to get their chunk of the pie. People are hurting but the government seems more intent on focusing on the carnival.
What benefit is it to the country? Here we see the same money that always circulated in the economy moving from one place to another. But, what about the injection of new money? What about the tourists that were supposed to come here in droves and fill hotel rooms? There is no scientific detail in the BNFC’s figures!
Last year, chairman of the BNFC Paul Major claimed that the three-day event last weekend would yield some $50m. This year, officials projected a $70m impact on the national GDP from carnival. How are they arriving at these numbers?
Where is the empirical data to show that the festival, in its second year, continued to succeed against its mandate of stimulating economic opportunities for SMEs in the creative sector and positively impacting the national GDP?
The Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has evolved into a matter of moving goalposts. Nobody is questioning how good a party we had. Bahamians had a blast, but if you spend $9m on a party one would expect that it’s a really good party. That’s not the point.
Admittedly, the Road Fever event has done well. I accept that it has been a major stimulant for business along its route.
That said, though the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is not likely to scrap the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival (BJC) any time soon, but this is one programme that deserves a stiff dose of stop, review and cancel.
The public was promised that this year’s festival would be more structured, better budgeted and constructed in such a way to guarantee a solid return on investment. However, on the face of it, we can yet again censure the lethargic organisers for poor and rushed planning, not enough international marketing and not announcing the artists for the festival’s concert sooner.
In terms of the planning for the headliner/s, the international promotions and marketing and putting actual heads in beds, we see a repeat of last year. I doubt it will spur major economic activity. How sad.
On the face of it, it seems clear that Mr Major has seemingly taken us all for dodos.
Last year, although Mr Major revealed information that was uninspiring and worrisome as we got no return from the Carnival 2015, he stood by his projection that the inaugural festival increased Bahamian GDP by more than $50m, with - according to him - the event having a direct economic impact of $19m (including $5.5m in Grand Bahama).
$11m 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 last year’s 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.
Some time ago, Mr Major said that the existing Junkanoo model creates no economic benefits and does not draw extra tourists to the Bahamas. He argued that the hotels were typically full during the Christmas and New Year periods, meaning there was little scope to draw extra visitors and spending.
In a recent presentation to the Rotary Club of West Nassau, Mr Major said: “We are giving the tourists something to come here and do in May. We have 25,000 people sitting out on those ships, crew and passengers every weekend, and the farthest they walk is to Junkanoo Beach and back. Every stop they make has the same beach, so the question is what are we really selling?
“We know that Baha Mar will bring a few thousand rooms on stream by April. We have an additional 8,000-9,000 rooms on the island, most of which will be empty by May. We can now put those junkanooers to work to sell to the incremental tourists who will be coming here. Anyone who wants to make money during this week-long period can, and there will be millions of dollars spent.
Today, he now claims that the Junkanoo Carnival was never designed to work as a “profit exercise”. Mr Major does not seem to tire of insulting our collective intelligence.
He said the festival has never been and will never be about turning a profit on investment, contending that no variation of the event hosted around the world has generated a profit for the host nation.
“Nowhere in the world is a carnival a profit venture. In Trinidad they spend, I think we estimated somewhere around, based on the conversion, $40m a year,” said Mr Major.
He said the success of the festival must be measured by the thousands of persons that benefit from the event indirectly.
“It is about the tens of thousands of people that fill their hotel rooms; it is about the thousands of people that rent every available vehicle on the island; it is the thousands of people, one band alone that I participated in, they had 15,000 people in it (in another country) - our total parade hasn’t reached there as yet, but we will,” he said.
Wow! He sure does not sound like the Paul Major of yesteryear!
Let’s not forget that Paul Major, as General Manager of Bahamasair, was also slated as the chosen one to turn the airline around and make it profitable. We can all see how that worked out.
I attended this year’s carnival and observed representatives from the Bank of The Bahamas collecting monies for tickets in shoe boxes. What a disgrace. What’s more, whilst I stood there waiting for my wrist band, there were glitches in programming it. I lost 20 minutes waiting for them to resolve their issues. That’s unacceptable.
Is it possible that with more accountability, ticket sales and ‘other revenue’ accounted for much more than the published $578,342? No doubt - given the slackness I witnessed - “tiefin” occurred.
If carnival is to continue, far more private sponsorship is needed. The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) cannot be the only company that spends nearly a million of the $1.2m in sponsorship. According to the BNFC, BTC sponsored the event for a second consecutive year with an investment of $650,000 in cash sponsorship and $350,000 in kind.
Other sponsors identified included Commonwealth Brewery, another founding sponsor, and Atlantis, SuperClubs Breezes, Bank of the Bahamas and Cash and Go; however sponsorship amounts by these companies were not given.
While the government wastes so much money on carnival, islands such as Long Island do not have the facilities to print driver’s licences. Islanders have been riding around with printouts of their receipts for a year now. Do they not pay taxes as well?
And why doesn’t Long Island and Crooked Island have a fire engine? There are two trained firemen who are now working on Long Island as police officers. What about an ambulance for Long Island?
If the government could waste $22m on a street party, the same could be spent on a new international airport for Long Island? Right?
Why must Long Islanders travel to New Providence to have a simple blood test done?
When will Long Islanders have the roads damaged by Hurricane Joaquin repaired? When will people receive further assistance with their homes so that they can remove tarpaulins from their rooftops?
When will islands such as Long Island receive a much needed economic boost?
Whilst we dance and prance and waste money on a carnival where few people benefit, Bahamians are hurting. And, quite frankly, it’s no joke!
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