Tobago bandleaders need business account or…No Mas Money

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris. – Photo courtesy the THA

TOBAGO’S bandleaders are fuming mad, saying the THA should have told them long before the start of the Carnival season, that they needed to open business bank accounts in order to access grants to assist with their presentations.

They are calling for an urgent meeting with Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris, and Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd interim CEO Janelle Drysdale-Job to discuss the issue.

During an emergency meeting by the Tobago Mas Bandleaders Association on January 31, at its camp office in Smithsfield, Scarborough, members said they fear the newly implemented criteria, may not allow them to get the grant in time for Carnival, which is less than two weeks away.

They said the THA should have told them about this fundamental change in doing business much earlier in the season so they could have made the necessary arrangements.

In a Facebook live on January 19, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine – deputising for Burris – announced that the executive council had approved the payment of grants for Tobago bandleaders for Carnival.

He said the budgetary proposal for grants, which came to the THA, was $140,000 but the executive council had agreed to double that proposed figure to $280,000.

But Augustine told bandleaders that owing to the new procurement act, which was proclaimed last year, cheques could not simply be provided to them in their name.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. – File photo

Augustine said bandleaders should have had their bands registered and a business bank account carrying the name of their business be opened.

At the meeting on January 30, the bandleaders said they learnt about this arrangement during Augustine’s live video.

A female bandleader, whose business is registered, said she knew of many bandleaders who are still unregistered and who also do not have a business account.

She believes this will be a major hindrance to them accessing much-needed funds from the THA to finalise their preparations in time for Carnival. “Material for costumes, props and other things needed for a successful season don’t just fall from the sky you know,” the irate bandleader said.

“I have my (business) account but the rest of bandleaders will not be getting an appointment before Carnival. So when are they going to get the grant? For October Carnival,” she asked.

Tobago Mas Bandleaders Association chairman Diane Mc Crimmon, who was elected in October, told the bandleaders on January 31 that she is willing to sit down with the THA and the Tobago Festivals Commission to try and reach a compromise.

“I will argue a little bit, but in order to get to where you are, you have to disagree, in order to agree in everything,” she said.

“While others in the association in the past would not bend a knee, I had more time to bring out this mas because I know what festivals does come with. So I am willing to bend a knee to get things done.”

Mc Crimmon said the THA’s new system of payment will affect bandleaders’ ability to complete their preparations, with several already spending significant sums on their presentations but which are still incomplete.

She said, “You cannot just drop this on us right now. Because since last year you should have called us in and let everybody know. We now have to hustle and go to register, you may have to do a name search, or a search to see the business’ name is not already taken and those kinds of things might take three weeks. Carnival is right around the corner!

Mc Crimmon said bandleaders do not have a problem registering and setting up a business account in order to be compliant with the law. Their angst is on not being given advanced notice of these changes and requirements.

“Yuh can’t come this morning to tell me and expect all of the bands now to tip toe up the road and you not getting nothing done (in time for Carnival).” Mc Crimmon said these grants go a long way to help the bandleaders especially as they do not have the luxury of leaning on corporate sponsors.

“These grants does pull yuh out of some deep holes yuh didn’t kow yuh could have come out of. But now they are saying that in order to get the grant, your band have to register and you have to open a business bank account. So if you don’t have a business bank account you cannot access the grant,” Mc Crimmon said.

During the meeting, she also complained about the budget and prize structure for Carnival, insisting there needs to be a review.

Mc Crimmon claimed that the Tobago Festivals Commission only sent her an email of the budget around 8.45 pm on January 30.

Efforts to reach Augustine, Burris and Drysdale-Job for comment on February 1 proved futile.