By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The FNM’s deputy leader fears Junkanoo Carnival’s privatisation value may have been undermined by last week’s opening date reversal, and warned that the likelihood of taxpayers seeing a return on their investment was “next to zero”.
K P Turnquest told Tribune Business that, as the event’s principal financier, the Government has “a responsibility to protect the brand” and ensure Carnival retains its value should private sector entities take over its running.
He expressed concern that the rapid ‘u-turn’ on this year’s Carnival dates, with the event postponed and then returned to its original schedule within days, had “contaminated” the Festival’s value.
“It does send a negative message out to the market on our ability to host these events and plan such a Festival,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business.
“No matter what one may feel about Carnival as an event, there are individual entrepreneurs who believed in the product, invested in it, and stand to lose, having invested the money the way they had.
“We have at least a responsibility to protect the brand, so whoever takes it over, takes over a product worth selling,” he added.
“From that point of view, these entrepreneurs who have invested have a right to expect a product that is not contaminated by the indecision seen over the last couple of days.”
All three major political parties - the governing PLP, FNM and DNA - have indicated that they would seek to privatise Junkanoo Carnival’s ownership and operations, although they have given little detail on how or when this would occur.
Dario Tirelli, president of the Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association, has previously suggested his members would be interested in taking over Carnival’s running.
However, last week’s dates reversal, and the cancellation, then reinstatement, of Junkanoo Carnival’s Grand Bahama event, could not have occurred at a worse time for both the privatisation concept and the event itself.
For there are indications that Junkanoo Carnival, now in its third year, had slowly been starting to establish itself in the international market, especially among regular carnival-goers who attend similar events such as the one in Trinidad & Tobago.
That rising interest is likely to have suffered a blow as a result of last week’s events, with the Government reinstating the original dates for fear that the Bahamas’ reputation would take a battering on social media.
“I think that Carnival has not been very successful to-date in bringing visitors to the country, certainly not to the level promised, so I don’t know how much we will suffer from that,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business.
“I’m more concerned with the damage that happened to the various Carnival groups and their ability to actually acquire goodwill for the future of Carnival, if they decide the way to go forward is to privatise the function.”
The Government’s subsidy to Junkanoo Carnival for the inaugural two years has been almost $20 million, with $11.3 million and $8.1 million spent in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
A further $5 million subsidy has been agreed for this year’s event, but Mr Turnquest expressed considerable doubt that Bahamian taxpayers will ever obtain a return on this investment even if the event is privatised.
“The chances of getting a return on your taxpayer dollars were next to zero before this debacle,” the FNM deputy leader told Tribune Business. “Certainly, this has not helped.”
Suggesting that Bahamian taxpayers had been “left holding the bag”, Mr Turnquest added: “I believe this should be a private event. In as much as we committed taxpayer dollars to it this year, they ought to ensure that the product is presented in the best possible light.”
The Christie administration has sought to distance itself from the ‘dates’ fiasco, instead blaming it on organiser, the Bahamas National Festival Commission. However, given that the Government’s $5 million subsidy made it Carnival’s top financier, this is difficult to do.
Mr Turnquest questioned why neither the Government nor the Festival Commission saw fit to change the dates months in advance, knowing that it was increasingly likely the general election would be held in early May, thus bringing the two events into conflict.
This failure, he added, was then compounded by the late decision to postpone Carnival for two weeks - a move reversed just days later by intervention from the Government and minister of tourism, Obie Wilchcombe.
“Once again a lack of leadership and a lack of planning and forethought,” Mr Turnquest said. “It was unfortunate that they did not take advice months ago to reschedule the date given that the election was likely to be held during this period.
“Having not made the decision, it was ill-advised at this late date to change it... It’s once again tangible evidence of a confused government.”
Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is now back to its original dates. The Nassau leg is once again scheduled for May 4-6, and the Grand Bahama leg, which had been scrapped, is back on for April 28-29.
Mr Turnquest, the east Grand Bahama MP, said the initial decision to cancel Junkanoo Carnival on his island was especially devastating to people who were “suffering economically”.
Had the cancellation not been reversed, the FNM deputy leader said it would have amounted to “pulling the rug out from under vendors at the last minute”.