Predictably, the grumbling has started from the three Carnival interest groups about the money allocated for Taste of Carnival, the scaled-down version of the annual festival that gets going towards the end of this week.
Almost in unison, Pan Trinbago, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) and the T&T Carnival Bandleaders Association (TTCBA) have started signaling that $15 million will not cover the cost of hosting their shows and competitions.
As usual, they are reliant on state funding and are entering into the season empty-handed, unable to show any revenue they have generated on their own.
This is not an unfamiliar situation for them. While the pandemic has been difficult for the cultural and entertainment sectors, the Carnival interest groups were in this woeful financial state for years before COVID-19.
And it is not only for Carnival activities that they look for drawdowns from the Treasury. They also depend on these annual allocations to fund their day-to-day operations, swallowing up millions of dollars for which they fail to properly account to the nation.
Along with the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the statutory body responsible for Carnival activities across the country, the interest groups were incorporated by Acts of Parliament and are required to submit audited financial statements, along with other documentation for monitoring and control of their operations.
However, audits done between October 2013 and September 2016 by Ernst and Young Services Limited at the request of the Culture Ministry revealed a disturbing lack of accountability, transparency and value for the money invested in the interest groups.
According to the Ernst and Young report, accounts, and receipts of revenue from major Carnival-related events were not properly checked and accounted for, adequate records were not kept of receipts and payment of suppliers’ invoices and there was no evidence of tendering processes being used to procure goods and services.
The auditors also expressed concern about conflicts of interest where executives were awarded contracts to provide goods and services. In addition, bank accounts, receivables accounts and payables were not periodically checked and reconciled, and budgets were not formally approved by the executives of the interest groups.
Based on what was unearthed by these audits, it is no wonder that Carnival is increasingly becoming a loss-making venture and a burden to taxpayers.
It does not have to be that way. While calypso tents fail to draw crowds and the gate receipts from most pan and mas competitions are disappointing, the opposite seems to be the case with the Carnival events hosted by the private operators in the industry who don’t get state funding.
There is money to be made in Carnival, but the sums invested annually by the State are not yielding measurable returns.
The nation needs to hear from the interest groups about their operations and how they generate revenue. A review of their operations is long overdue and should be done right after the 2022 season ends.
Legislative and policy changes must be made so that the State gets more value for the huge sums invested annually in Carnival.