Monday, February 19, 2018

NCC must move from red to black


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She likely did not intend it that way, but National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Allison Demas, by speaking some blunt truths, managed to cast a financial shadow over Carnival. The 2013 Carnival was just about busting out all over when Ms Demas, addressing last Thursday's international meeting of Carnival Arts Organisations, disclosed that the NCC is $45 million in debt.

To execute its mandate, the legislated Carnival enabling arm of the State, operating through or under the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism, has to borrow to that extent. It should have been more widely known that Carnival, for which the State lavishly underwrites costs, also pointedly contributes to the annual T&T budgetary deficit. State funding of Carnival, associated with the steady acceptance of responsibility by the Government, has only expanded, apparently without limit, and attracting hardly enough public attention.

Treasury funding for Carnival contributes to a short-lived economic stimulus. Employment and income evidently expand over the season. Through taxation, of course, the State should derive some measure of "kickback".

But last Thursday's meeting heard a focus on what the NCC, burdened as it is by debt, simply can and cannot do for the development of Carnival. Ms Demas said she and the Commission have sought to identify and elaborate a "business model" for Carnival. But they cannot see their way: that business model "remains very elusive", she said.

It appears that the NCC, which is associated with an expenditure account derived from Treasury funding, makes nearly no money at all on its own. Only Dimanche Gras, Ms Demas said, occasions an inflow of gate receipts to the NCC's coffers.

That Sunday spectacular, however, now facing an identity crisis and the need to redefine itself and refocus its market appeal, may not be relied upon to ring the NCC's cash registers loudly enough. Certainly, based on Sunday's rough and ready presentation of the "evolution" entitled "I am Carnival", the NCC's single cash cow appears in danger of limping into bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Ms Demas reports that the NCC is expected, on behalf of the State, both to sustain and foster Carnival culture, among other ways, by sponsoring 53 local-area Carnivals plus one in Tobago—and also to make money. The $45 million debt burden is where all that has led.

Some long-overdue, sober plain-talking about Carnival prospects and possibilities should get a hearing on March 2, when the NCC holds a stakeholder consultation. Until such time as the NCC is adequately funded, or enabled to turn a respectable dollar, the State should see to its responsibility to keep Carnival in the black.