By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
GOVERNMENT officials yesterday lauded the “sold out” attendance of the 2017 Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade, as they expressed confidence that last night’s attendance numbers far outweighed the controversy surrounding the parade’s postponement a day prior.
Various parliamentarians, including Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, Youth, Sports and Culture Minister Michael Pintard, and Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis, all praised the “wonderful attendance” of last night’s festivities, which were originally postponed due to projected inclement weather.
As noted by Junkanoo officials, senior police officers and based on The Tribune’s observations, the Boxing Day parade started on time at 6pm on Bay Street, though at that time the bleachers in Rawson Square and the surrounding areas were only moderately filled.
However, as the night wore on, more and more spectators filed into the downtown area, resulting the sections of Bay Street designated for usage by spectators eventually becoming packed to capacity.
“I was little afraid early, but if you look at the crowd now they’re here,” Mr Turnquest told The Tribune during an interview from his seat in Rawson Square. “The fans are out, it’s a sold out parade, so we’re very happy with that. And I’m sure the Junkanooers would be ecstatic with the support they get from the crowd.
He added: “It’s always disappointing when you don’t come out on Boxing Day morning, but when you look at what’s happening tonight, I think it’s fantastic.”
The Boxing Day parade was expected to begin on Monday night at 10pm.
However, it was announced on Sunday that the parade would be postponed to Tuesday at 8pm due to weather concerns.
At the time, Parade Management Team chairman Anthen Mortimer said the date change was finalised subsequent to a vote by officials from all of the major Junkanoo groups, and following a meeting with officials from the Department of Meteorology.
It was later announced that the starting time for the parade would be moved up two hours to 6pm.
There was widespread criticism of the postponement subsequent to the announcement, and pointed criticism levied at the meteorologist who was said to have forecasted that “inclement weather” would negatively impact the event.
Last night, however, Mr Pintard stressed that although he personally preferred that the parade should start on the original date and time, the decision was made by those in the Junkanoo community, and thus ought to be respected.
And regarding the criticism of the senior meteorologist, Mr Pintard called on Bahamians to “discontinue” criticising “Bahamian professionals” without knowing all of the facts and to “reserve our opinions until we know all of the details”.
“The Junkanoo leaders made a decision,” he said. “While I would have preferred that the parade occur on Boxing Day, I respect their decision. Again, all of our stakeholders are important, not just the Junkanooers, however given the level of sacrifice that they continue to make, time, resources, you have to give weight to their decision. And so I respect their decision.
“We are mindful of the business community and the importance of us getting back to business on Wednesday morning, persons being able to go to work, etc, and we’re also mindful of the public. And so in order for Junkanoo to grow it has to be predictable in terms of the date. So it’s important that Junkanooers appreciate that when a date is set, it is useful to honour that date.
“But given the circumstances they believe that they were faced with, they voted on two occasions and the final occasion they called for an occasion. I’m not going to fight with the Junkanooers. I’m going to ask the Bahamian public to go ahead and enjoy this year’s parade. We will make the necessary adjustments going forward however.”
Mr Pintard also said the government has already made arrangements “in advance to return Bay Street into a position that is workable for the business community as well as persons going to work”.
“We have already met with the team from Environmental Health,” he said. “They are poised to begin the cleanup immediately after the last group. So they are positioned in the Elizabeth area, they will come in at 2am, and as soon as the last group is out of the gate, they will commence the clean up.”
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the postponement, last night’s parade was rife with solid entertainment and quality music from the various Junkanoo groups in both divisions seeking to portray their themes as best as possible.
In particular, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis could be seen shaking the cowbells while “rushing” with the Saxons Superstars.
The night was not without mishap, however. Following the Valley Boys’ performance on Bay Street, there was a 45-minute to hour-long delay until the next group, the Fancy Dancers, took to Bay Street to perform.
The reason for the delay was first hinted at by Assistant Commissioner of Police Kendal Strachan, who told The Tribune that “any number of the groups” that were scheduled to start were not ready to do so at the appropriate time.
ACP Strachan also said while activities on Bay Street started promptly at 6pm, such was not the case on Shirley and Elizabeth Avenue, where he said more than 45 minutes elapsed “with no activities at that location”.
When questioned on the matter, Mr Mortimer explained that the delay was caused by Conquerors of Christ, who were not ready when called to the gate.
“Conquerors of Christ was not ready to come out in their official gate entry, so they were given a ten-point penalty,” he explained. “We went to the next group, which was Genesis, they were not ready to come out so they were given another ten-point penalty.
“Fancy Dancers was ready to come out but we had to give them an extra 20 minutes to get ready to get into the road. That’s what actually caused the delay.”
Still, when interviewed, Mr Davis said he was enjoying the “excitement and exhilaration” of last night’s festivities, and impressed at the turnout.
“Once there’s Junkanoo, Bahamians are going to turn out,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of disappointment about the postponement... but I think at the end of the day again people are still now enjoying what’s going on.
“I think at the end of the day there’s has to be a post-mortem of what may have happened, may not have happened, and what informs the decision to postpone. And I think at an appropriate time that has to be addressed so that disappointments that seem to be attending to this event can be dissipated or corrected in the future.”