more Planning: National Carnival Commission chairperson Allison Demas at her Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, office on Friday. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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Demas: No excuses come 2014

NCC chairman to continue with new Dimanche Gras despite 'failed' idea

By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

The 2013 Carnival season suffered negative shocks after the competitions were removed from the Dimanche Gras show.

But this will not stop the National Carnival Commission (NCC) from maintaining the changes next year, says NCC chairperson Allison Demas.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express on Friday, Demas admitted she was disappointed with the results that changes to the Dimanche Gras show brought.

Speaking on the 2013 celebrations, as well as plans for Carnival 2014 and beyond, Demas said the biggest disappointment for her was the poor Dimanche Gras production.

But she maintains it will remain a non-competitive event in 2014.

The Calypso Monarch, King and Queen of Carnival and Soca Monarch competitions will continue as separate events next year.

"I am of the view that clearly, the execution of that idea failed miserably in 2013, but to me, it does not negate the validity of that idea and, of course, hindsight is 2020 vision.

It was perhaps madness to even begin the whole selection process, which involved open tendering and drafting the (request for proposals). So it was no surprise that nobody responded, and the only entity that did was Unlimited Functions, and they basically responded, saying, 'We know we are probably too late for 2013, but keep us in mind for 2014,'" Demas said.

ISLANDpeople—Unlimited Functions is an entertainment and management company run by Derrick and Dane Lewis.

Given the fact that Unlimited was the only company that responded to the call for the $3 million production, Demas says they were contacted on Christmas Eve.

"Clearly, that was insufficient time to put on a successful production. There is going to be a lot more planning, and we have to focus on increasing the production values, in particular, the Dimanche Gras, Calypso Monarch, but even for the King and Queens final and even Panorama.

"I think the possibilities are limitless, and with a year to plan, there definitely should be no excuses come 2014 if the Dimanche Gras fails to hit the mark," Demas added.

She explained she inherited this year's changes when she was appointed as chair in mid-November last year.

Demas said what was surprising last November was that there was no strategic plan in place for the 2013 celebrations.

"One would have assumed that there would have been an operational plan and a marketing plan; there was none. In fact, I understand, in September, the NCC had just embarked on a strategic plan and exercise.

It meant that we had to dive in immediately to the operational aspects. There was no opportunity to plan and so it made it extremely difficult."

Changes to the Dimanche Gras were made at an annual general meeting of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) in September 2011 by the general membership, with a motion raised by the executive that there should be a separate show for the Calypso Monarch, she said, pointing out the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) had also made a decision around that time to have Kings and Queens finals as a separate event.

Demas said the idea behind the separation of the shows was to take a step towards achieving some measure of financial viability.

"Because all of the events during Carnival are funded by the government and the funds are channelled through the NCC, it was felt that if these interest groups could benefit from the gate receipts, it would go some way towards achieving viability," she said.

Those decisions were ratified by the then board of directors who felt there was not sufficient time to implement them in 2012.

Demas said the idea of separating the Dimanche Gras from the competitions was not a new one but was put forward by masman Peter Minshall, the late Roy Boyke and Dr Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust) in a position paper in 1986, and was also suggested by Dr Keith Nurse in a 1998 strategic business plan done for the NCC.

Plans are already underway for Carnival 2014 and this time, there will be careful selection of a producer with a successful track record in putting on presentations on the kind of scale needed for the Dimanche Gras.

Asked about gate receipts for the various shows, she said: "I don't yet have figures on gate receipts, but in terms of the Calypso Monarch, TUCO had expressed the view that it has been very difficult for the contestants in the Calypso Monarch to perform to the Grand and the North stands, so the intention was only to focus on the Grand Stand, and all indications are that, certainly, the Calypso Monarch finals was well attended.

"The surprise was the much maligned Big Friday—the Kings and Queens—because that turned into quite a successful production, and much credit must go to Mr David Lopez, president of the NCBA, and Geraldo Viera Jr. I am pretty sure that when we add up the three shows, the total attendance will be more than previous years in total," Demas said.

She added that the gate receipts for Calypso Monarch all went to TUCO, the gate receipts for Big Friday went to the NCBA, and the only gate receipts for the NCC would have been from the Dimanche Gras.

The standard of performance at Panorama, she said, was excellent, with only a thin line separating the bands.

"But even the Panorama Finals was another marathon of seven hours, and so I believe that the various categories should be split for the finals," she said.

Looking at the NCC's finances, she said: "The subvention to date, not all of the costs have come in yet, is $91 million—a conservative estimate at this stage.

When we include the Cabinet-approved $27.8 million in the form of a loan, plus another projected $9.2 million, we have a projected total of an estimated $129 million."

She said what she was concerned about was the amount being spent on infrastructure.

"In terms of infrastructure, 12 per cent of that was on construction, another 22 per cent was also other costs related to infrastructure, so in total, infrastructure accounts for 34 per cent.

Then we have assistance to regional Carnival bodies because we have to remember that Carnival is not just in Port of Spain, and that was nine per cent. Then 22 per cent of the allocation went to the special interest groups: NCBA, PanTrinbago, TUCO, and 20 per cent of that was in relation to prize money. The other two per cent was Carnival-related costs.

So immediately, you would see that the majority of the projected costs, 34 per cent to date, is in relation to infrastructure. So that is $40-something million just in infrastructure. Who is benefiting from this cost—the contractors. So that needs to be looked at seriously.

As it relates to the NCC's $45 million debt, she said this year, the NCC would have incurred a $27 million debt, and it is the same thing that happened last year.

"And it all has to do with financing. What happens, in March, the NCC, as all State enterprises, would submit a budget for the next fiscal year and that budget goes to the Ministry of Finance.

The budget for the NCC is based on actual cost, so when the budget goes to the Ministry of Finance, it is based on what was actually expended and, of course, you may put some measure of uplift, and invariably what happens, come October, what is actually allocated is less than the actual expenditure. So you start off the year being unable to meet the cost of the current year."

This takes the NCC to Cabinet to ask for more money.

"So one of the steps we are also taking, we are going to be commissioning a study that will give us data: what are the socio and economic benefits of Carnival; how much does Carnival contribute to economy, to our GDP; how many jobs it creates, even if it is temporary because we have to present a really solid case to the Minister of Finance. While it may seem to the average person that $129 million is an exorbitant amount of money, but when you see what the State actually derives from Carnival, all the sectors benefit—hotels, taxi-drivers, vendors, across the board."

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