July 31, 2018
Licence Fees for Carnival? Seek Win-Win Solutions

The direction in which the long-running feud over the financial contributions of private promoters during the Carnival season is taking gives reason for public concern. Following yet another public suggestion from outspoken Transport Minister Julian Francis that such promoters should be asked to pay licence fees, one leading promoter, Luke Boyea, has reacted strongly.

The minister’s proposal, an echo of previous calls by him, was based on the rationale that since government pumps millions of dollars into the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC) to promote the national festival, it is only fair that those who benefit from it, should make special contributions via the licensing system as suggested.

However, Boyea has strongly objected. He reasoned in his defence, the fact that the promoters already make substantial contributions by paying various forms of taxes – VAT, Corporate tax, Withholding tax and Entertainment tax. Further, the local promoter said that they also pay significant rental fees to government for state-owned venues used to host private fetes. He charged that the minister is wrongly targeting promoters like him and said that they are not the only persons to benefit from Carnival.

The eruption of this dispute once again and the apparent intensity of it are worrying signs. Into the argument other non-Carnival elements are being injected, such as government’s incentive benefits to foreign investors and even the state monopoly of Carnival administration is being challenged. Worse, there is not a serious dialogue, but what local people would call “throwing words”. Surely this cannot help, and we can do better.

To be fair, the private promoters have a point where their contributions are concerned. Whether we like it or not, private fetes have become very much a part of the Carnival landscape and there are visitors attracted to Caribbean Carnival as much as by these fetes as by the Mas itself. Indeed packages are being sold, including such fetes. Then it is also true that other private activities, street bars for instance, benefit from the Carnival which CDC promotes.

Yet this does not negate any possible extra contributions from private beneficiaries. If one takes sponsorship for instance, this does not absolve companies from paying their fair share of taxes. It seems to us that the approach is not helping to get reasoned dialogue. Carnival is changing in nature and rapidly too. New issues confront us each year and it is doubtful whether a CDC based on the old order can handle them.

A new approach is needed to allow ALL the component parts of Carnival, private promoters included, to sit down, discuss and try to find WIN-WIN solutions, not fight, argue and drag us all in a race to the bottom.