Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg.
MINISTER of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg said it won’t be business as usual when Junkanoo parades return to Bay Street later this year, saying the government anticipates an increase in the event’s operational budget to pay for enhanced safety measures.
Meanwhile, an official from the Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence said stakeholders want to see changes to the parades this season, with improvements in the judging format, the handling of results and a better spectator experience to be discussed.
Mr Bowleg was asked about recommendations from Saxons leader Percy “Vola” Francis that stakeholders needed to come together to hash out measures needed at parades and Junkanoo shacks after a two-year absence.
“Most definitely we can’t go back to Bay Street as things were prior to COVID, so there has to be some protocols put in place,” Mr Bowleg said in response. “We have to build an environment where it’s safe for all persons who will be attending the parade. Yes we anticipate there will be an increase in the budget as it relates to the government having to subsidise the parade, which we subsidise the entire operation of the parade in any event. “Knowing that there has to be sanitation stations, we have to have extra exit and entry points, more human resources will be needed.
“So he is correct, we cannot go back to Bay Street as it was prior to COVID, so definitely we have to make some adjustments.”
Mr Bowleg said stakeholders will get together to formulate a plan for the upcoming Junkanoo season. He could not say how much the event’s operational costs will increase in view of the changes that will be made to any future parades.
Asked about a possible increase in seed funding to Junkanoo groups — some of whom have complained about reduced donations to the COVID-19 economic slump — Mr Bowleg said he did not anticipate the government shelling out more money in this regard.
“I think it’s premature for us to get to that point, I still believe that looking at the economy right now we are trending in the right direction. Most of the major sponsors for Junkanoo are doing quite well. I believe that — we’re still nine months away from Junkanoo, so when we get to that bridge we’ll cross that bridge. But at this very present time, I don’t see the need for us to have to make any new increase for any grants to the Junkanoo groups. . .”
Asked if there were plans to host one holiday parade this season, Mr Bowleg said: “We will go on the course as if things will be back to some sort of normalcy with two parades.”
Yesterday, Dion Miller, chairman of the JCNP, told The Tribune that stakeholders want to see major improvements to the parades.
He said the JCNP’s year does not begin until April 4, so he could not speak about specific plans.
“However all Junkanooers are in agreement with Mr Francis’ comments,” Mr Miller said. “We are in agreement that after a two-year absence you can’t come back to Bay Street with the same format, the same attitude, the same presentation.
“We must innovate and improve the parade experience.”
Asked what areas they hope to improve he said: “One thing we have to look at is the whole judging of the parades, the whole parade aftermath. . .so we avoid what occurred during the last season with confusion in the parade results.”
He said stakeholders also want to create a more inviting atmosphere for the spectators saying the parades have gotten “stale” in recent times.
“We’re anticipating that this year will be some huge, massive parade, some exciting parade and it’s time to go back to Bay and do what we love to do.”
“We’ve already met with our partners in government a few weeks ago and got the greenlight to begin our planning for the current season. We’re ready to rock and roll and return to Bay Street. . this year.”
The Boxing Day and New Year’s parades were put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic.
However, last week during the Royal visit, Junkanoo groups rushed down Bay Street as part of the celebrations for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
On Monday, Mr Bowleg said a possible Junkanoo event was being planned for the country’s independence celebration in July.
This comes as daily COVID-19 cases remain low, with only one new case recorded on March 28.