Forward we don't go
Oft-times, the statements of government officials are intended to delude the masses into a false sense of euphoria. It reminds us of the potentially manic sense of happiness represented in lyrics in the Bobby McFerrin's 1988 hit song: Don't Worry Be Happy.
"Here's a little song I wrote/You might want to sing it note for note/Don't Worry, Be Happy."
For instance, tourism officials have described Dominica's carnival as the best in the world. Those of us who disagree with would probably argue that the officials exaggerated confidence is typical of recent statements from leaders of the ruling Dominica Labour Party. These politicians seem to have perfected the art of making positive statements about negative situations. Maybe they have deluded themselves in believing that their deliberate distortions of reality will somehow become everyone's perception. You hear these statements every day. Government is of the view that the economy is booming; agriculture is vibrant; the brain drain is reversing; unemployment and poverty are quickly becoming problems of the past; okay, the economy may be on the decline, but, listen carefully, that is merely as an inevitable consequence of world economic trends, they tell us. And here's the gem-our carnival is better than Trinidad's. Are we serious?
For more than 20 years we have been saying "Don't Worry Be Happy" about the state of carnival in terms of people's participation in the event and the festival's dwindling contribution to tourism arrivals. In response, over the last few years a number of persons have been clamouring for change. Although, based on their current silence, they seem to have given up.
In 2010, for instance, Alwyn Bully, the then Chairman of Dominica's Carnival Development Committee and the country's former National Cultural Advisor (as well as UNESCO's Regional Cultural Adviser) reiterated calls to address a date change for this country's carnival celebrations and called for the formation of a committee to discuss the ramifications of a new date for carnival. He had been singing that little tune for a while. At about the same time, Pat Aaron, the veteran calypso writer and head of the Showdown Mas Camp, also called for a change in the date of carnival. These are only two of the many voices calling for changes to the carnival product but no one in authority seemed to be listening. In fact, Mr. Collin Piper, the CEO of the Discover Dominica Authority intimated in 2014 that change is not an option as far as a new date for carnival is concerned. Matter done; forward we don't go.
We reported as far back as February 2004, that the then Minister of Tourism, Charles Savarin, promised to assess the need for revamping Dominica's Carnival; but not even the committee that was expected to recommend changes to the Minister was appointed. And no one noticed, no one asked Charlo about it. The process continued six years later; in 2010 Bully said he is planning to set up a committee after carnival to examine proposals for improving the event.
It is obvious that Dominicans are caught between the desire to hold on to that Catholic-originated event, which seems to have gone amok, and the need to create a tourism product with the potential to attract hundreds of foreigners to our shores. The Catholic Church is also caught in a dilemma. Understandably, the Church wants to maintain its tradition but at the same time it wishes to be disassociated from the image of licentiousness, violence and drunkenness that pervades carnival. Every year, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, God bless him, speaks passionately about the excesses of carnival; but the Bishop should be advised that talk alone is not the solution to the debauchery of carnival. Bishop Malzaire and Catholics in particular and Dominicans in general, cannot expect to have their cake and eat it. The date of Carnival has to be changed because the reasons for the change are overwhelmingly obvious.
Five years ago, Johnson JohnRose, a former Dominican journalist, who is presently the Communications Officer of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) based in Barbados, sent a five –page proposal to Yvor Nassief, the then Minister of Tourism, in which he argued for a change of date for carnival, for purely economic reasons. Nassief passed the letter to his Deputy, Loreen Bannis-Roberts. JohnRose's ideas died an unnatural death.
Among other ideas for a "remaking" of Carnival, JohnRose suggested that carnival has "the potential of pumping millions of dollars into Dominica's economy annually but the festival organisers "must be prepared to make some drastic changes."
He said Carnival must be seen as a cost -effective means to create demand for tourism, add a fillip to the entertainment sector by creating new clients, markets and media exposure, create a new and expanding clientele for the commercial sector, (e.g. retail stores and restaurants) and generate additional business for the media and advertising industries.
In his letter, JohnRose stated that St. Lucia has been enjoying the benefits of a change of date for its Carnival since 2000. St. Lucia's experience has also revealed that the country "wasted" this incredible resource when it held the festival during the pre-Lenten period; it increased its capacity by moving it to a traditionally slow period. Figures from the CTO indicated that in 1998, St. Lucia welcomed 19,000 visitors in July and 21,000 in 1999, but by 2000, the first year that carnival was moved, the number of visitors in July had reached nearly 27,000. That number fell in 2001, when the Caribbean Tourism Industry was going through difficult times, and even further in 2002, as a result of 9/11. But by 2003 tourist arrivals to St. Lucia in July had climbed back to over 26, 000; in 2004 it neared 30,000 and surpassed that figure in 2007. However, the numbers for February remained virtually unchanged throughout that period - in the region of 23,000 to 24,000 visitors, reaching 28,000 last year. This clearly demonstrates that while changing Carnival's date did not have any negative impact on arrivals in February, it certainly had very positive effects on arrivals in July.
The economic benefit of a change of date of Carnival is therefore unquestionable. In any event, Dominica cannot do much worse than it is doing right now.