THERE is an old saying about success having many fathers – and if that’s the case, then the Fyre Festival is the loneliest of orphans.
The festival had been due to take place in April 2017. Promoted by models on Instagram and portrayed as a luxury concert at a glamorous destination here in The Bahamas, behind the scenes was a story of a lack of preparation, poor planning – and a complete failure to understand what it took to stage a festival of that size. It was going to soar like Icarus – but crashed just the same way.
It’s back in the news thanks to a pair of documentaries – one on Netflix, the other on Hulu – but for many Bahamians, the lingering after-effects of the festival had never gone away.
The festival’s unpaid bills left many Bahamian workers without money in their pockets, and many businesspeople struggling to bridge the gap left by the organisers – one of which, Billy McFarland, was convicted of fraud after using fake documents to attract investors, and was jailed for six years.
For the rest of the world, it was a peek inside the chaos that happened on our doorstep, but in The Bahamas, a lack of government involvement in the documentaries left more questions than answers. For us, for our future, how could we have handled things differently?
Then Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe this week responded to the documentaries saying that the government did all the right things, and seemed to distance himself from the project.
He said McFarland “told us ‘we don’t want anything from the government’, we just love Exuma” and that “no one really knew the level to which the matter had fallen apart”.
That’s quite different from the run-up to the event when Mr Wilchcombe said on March 6, 2017, “We’re working closely with the Fyre Festival team to ensure that visitors have an unforgettable trip to the Exumas.”
Just under a month after that press release, out came another press release saying “The Ministry of Tourism has been working tirelessly with Fyre Festival organisers to ensure that the 2017 festival is unforgettable for the over 5,000 guests expected to descend on the island”.
It was indeed unforgettable – but not in the way the ministry hoped. How tirelessly was the ministry working, if now the minister says he only met the organiser once?
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest says that one bill referred to in the Netflix documentary – for $175,000 to Customs – has been paid, and is inquiring about a payment of a million dollars also referred to in the same documentary. That, at least, shows a diligence that has been absent elsewhere, and that’s the crucial thing to stand out for Bahamians.
Due diligence is a phrase that gets tossed around during big deals – but time and again, there seems to be a lack of the work to back it up, and it’s Bahamians on the ground who are left with unpaid bills when proper research is not done.
We are delighted that an online fundraising campaign has generated more than $170,000 to help Maryann Rolle, whose finances were devastated when her work for the festival was left unpaid – but she is one among many to have been affected.
Rather breezily, former minister Wilchcombe says he thinks “more due diligence will be given moving forward” but what we deserve is more solid investigation of what went wrong, when the government knew things were going wrong and what was done to protect the Bahamian people.
We already know due diligence has not necessarily improved going forward – the current government’s first swing at the Oban deal is proof enough of that. A failure to carry out such diligence is a problem that affects not just one government, but successive administrations. So which will be the administration that ensures it is carried out in future – and gives us clear answers over problems in the past?
Is it the one we elected – or will it be the one that replaces them?