Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday it is time for the government to stop “investing money” into Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival and “hand over” the yearly celebration to a “private entity”.
Speaking with reporters outside the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said the government will spend “considerably less” on Junkanoo Carnival this year but if he had it his way “we would not have to spend anything at all”.
However, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis told The Tribune that the government has budgeted $5m for this year’s event.
For the inaugural festival, the government spent $11.3m, going over its initial budget of $9m, with the total cost of the first carnival $12.9m, with the rest covered by sponsors.
Last year, the total cost was $9.8m with a government subsidy of $8.1m.
Since its roll out in 2015, Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has faced backlash from critics about the amount spent on the festival compared to the financial return. Some have also accused the government of adopting other countries’ culture, instead of investing more funding into the Bahamas’ premier cultural event, Junkanoo.
Mr Wilchcombe said the government has proved over the past two years that carnival does have traction and can have a “major financial contribution” to the Bahamian economy. He said it is time for the government to “pass it on”. He also said Junkanoo Carnival will not be cancelled because of the impending general election.
“The country does not stop right before elections, that is ridiculous. I would like to see it move more into the private sector now, government has done what it could do, it has established it, its has proved that it does have marketability so allow now for the private sector to come in and purchase the franchise,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“We will spend considerably less (this year). I am operating on the premise that we don’t have to spend anything. I am operating on the premise that the private sector will take it over and pay the government a franchise fee. We will own the franchise but certain standards must be maintained but allow for it to be run by the private sector. We should not be doing it, we started it, we invested it, now it’s time for us to hand it over and we get a franchise fee, but the private sector should take it over.”
Mr Wilchcombe said the money the government has spent in the past can now be used for “the refurbishment of the Dundas (Performing Arts Centre), the refurbishment of the National Centre for the Performing Arts and creating new programmes that will assist the arts.”
The government has been highly criticised for hosting the event and not making a profit.
Last year, Bahamas National Festival Commission Chairman Paul Major 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.
He said the success of the festival must be measured by the thousands of persons that benefit from the event indirectly.
Free National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis has previously said that his party will “privatise carnival” and invest the country’s money into Junkanoo and other cultural events if elected in the next general election.