Tuesday, 27 March 2012 01:30
Antigua St John's - The government is finally ready to clear its debt to Carnival participants, according to Culture Minister Eleston "Namba" Adams. This as his team works toward the launch of Carnival 2012 during Antigua Sailing Week in April.
The minister told the press on Monday that despite financial difficulties, the government is making an effort to clear its debt to key players.
“As far as I am concerned, I am doing an excellent job. People have said it,” Adams said. He apologized for the inconvenience caused over the past months, and expressed support for the emotions expressed by those affected.
Last week, the finance ministry provided $200,000 for the payment of 2011 prize winnings, and there are plans for weekly disbursements until all payments are made, according to the minister. This money came through “arrangements with the prime minister, the minister of Finance and the accountant general," he said.
Minister Adams labelled the system governing Carnival and culture in the country as “flawed”.
So far, $105,630 has been distributed to the 2011 Calypso Monarch participants, while the 2011 Junior Calypso Monarch participants have received $15,300.
Another $22,500 has been disbursed to junior and senior mas bands. Payments will be made to other stakeholders later this week, the minister said.
“Over the past few months, we have experienced some difficulties in meeting our obligations to stakeholders and to our service providers," he said.
"I wish once again to apologize for this and assure them that government is making every effort to clear our indebtedness to these important players associated with our annual summer festival. I again request the patience of those who are yet to be paid, and I wish to assure them that we are making every effort to deal with the situation in the shortest possible time."
Further, the minister said it was difficult for him to say “definitively” whether systems have been put in place to prevent a repeat of the problem. He also could not speak conclusively about the total of the CDC debt.
The future of Carnival in Antigua & Barbuda, according to Minister Adams, depends heavily on the finances the government has at its disposal. But he said he would prefer that assurances be given from the finance ministry beforehand so that money would be available for each competition.
“…We don't know what the future holds,” the minister said.
Carnival 2012 will run under the same $2.5 M budget as in previous years. Adams could not say whether the money being used to honour last year’s debt was coming from this year’s budget.
“That is not sustainable," he said. "That has to change. We have had discussions with Cabinet, and that should and will be a thing of the past. We have to bring spending in line… These things will be loosed at more closely…”
Going forward, prize money will remain the same despite the challenges in honouring them, but consideration is being given to removing certain segments of some competitions to save money.
In addition, a payment system, which has long been in place, will be put to better use this year in order to see a more timely and systematic payment of participants, beginning with artistes. Minister Adams announced that he will be taking a more hands-on approach to this year’s event.
The planned registration fee for this year’s event remains in place, despite opposition.
The Caribbean Soca Monarch, which is to replace the Caribbean Melting Pot event, is also on target with planning.PANORAMA 2011
Moreover, Minister Adams has announced that seven months after the protest action taken by the All Saints Steel Orchestra following the 2011 ACB Panorama Competition, the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) has agreed that the judging system used to place the Hells’ Gate Steel Orchestra atop the rest was flawed.
And it has since taken the decision to adjudge both teams as winners, complete with equal first prize money and bragging rights.
“…It was revealed that the judges utilized the ranking system to arrive at the winner, while the rules established by the Steel Band Association required the competition to be judged using the aggregate sum of all scores," the minister said.
"This anomaly resulted in the Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra winning the competition via the ranking system, while the Hadeed Group of Companies AMP Halycon Steel Orchestra
gained by the most overall points."
He added the decision to award two top prizes was taken based on the advice from the CDC, in consultation with the Steel Band Association.
“It is therefore my intention, and that of the organizers of the 2012 festival, to discuss and agree to a set of established rules for the judging of the Panorama competition to ensure that there is not a repeat of the same,” Adams said.
President of the Steel Band Association Patrick Johnson has been informed of the decision, and is expected to take the move to his membership as early as Tuesday.UNNAMED CDC BOARD
Meanwhile, recommendations have already been tendered to Cabinet with the names for the Carnival Development Committee (CDC), but while approval is in the making, plans are already underway for the 2012 celebrations.
Minister Adams said these plans, along with the launch of Carnival, are progressing smoothly. Discussions with the prime minister about the board’s appointment had taken place as recent as Monday, and a decision is expected shortly.
The members' names, according to Adams, “are basically the same people” who were there before.
“It is also my intention to meet with the principals of the mas, calypso, and steel band associations in an effort to ensure that we are singing from the same sheet," he said. "It is my hope that we can move forward and continue the preparations for this year’s celebrations… I can assure you that plans are fully underway… I’m not going to sit around and don't act.”
The minister said he has decided to begin planning Carnival ahead of the board being constituted, as part of a “proactive” approach to this year’s event. BROAD SHOULDERS
Amidst public criticism of his handling of Carnival, and calls for his resignation, Minister Adams said he is no stranger to disapproval, and he has come to accept that his position is one that would bring its fair share of critics.
He told the media on Monday that he has “broad shoulders” to “take the blows” being thrown, but noted that he is equally positioned to throw blows of his own.
“The fact of the matter is wants you sit in this hot seat, if anything goes wrong you are the target person,” he said. “I’m not going to be afraid or intimidated by anybody whatsoever. I have broad shoulders. I have backbone.”
The minister pointed out that some of the people “making noise” are those with “selfish” motives and sourness that emanated from past gripes.
He said he would not resign in the immediate future, but assured that he would not be in that position forever.
The general concerns of the public and some participants have not gone unnoticed, however, as the minister said those affected over the past years “have a right to be angry” and he supports their calls for a more effective system.
“They deserve their due," he said. "I have supported that upfront, and I continue to support that. And if they feel so moved that they have to call for my head, nothing is wrong with that."