I am not a fan of Carnival and the culture it spawns and not without reason. However, this is a personal view which I am certain is shared by many. I have no objection to people reasonably enjoying themselves in the manner to which they are accustomed while observing the law and minimal standards of decency and acceptable behaviour. When these standards are violated I have a problem. I also take some objection to the State making large subventions to support this festival in the name of culture.
One may justifiably question whether this Carnival obsession with fete and frolic, revelry and enjoyment has deeply influenced our psyche and has had a defining effect on our whole perspective on life and living. Are we identified as an easy-going, fun-loving, pleasure-seeking people who are incapable of making hard choices, determined effort and painful sacrifice and taking the long view to progress?
A few decades ago, the former prime minister of Singapore Mr Lee Quan Yew described the people of T&T as having a 'carnival mentality' implying, it would seem, that our citizens possessed an overweening disposition towards revelry and merriment, instant gratification and easy living, qualities which are not conducive to development. Mr Lee was roundly criticised by many locals for his views. However, many have argued that a proper cultural orientation plays a seminal role in socio-economic development.
We may wish to reflect on where Singapore was in 1965 without natural resources apart from a strategic location and where it is today. The question on which to ponder is whether T&T's culture, in particular, that aspect associated with Carnival, is a facilitator or an impediment to national and sustainable development.
An insidious effect of Carnival may stem from the lyrics and music associated with the festival. They would appear to promote aggressive, disruptive, unrestrained, lewd and violent behaviour in the society. Illustrations abound over the years. In the latest instance Mr Killa, perched on the bottom of a female dancer as if riding a mare, belted out his inspiring lyrics "Rum tell me grab something...anything…watch how I grab something...anything…rum tell me run wid it." It does not matter if this something belongs to someone else.
Now, these lyrics are also directed to children and will be absorbed by their impressionable minds culminating in negative consequences. Incidentally, Carnival is now imposed on children in primary schools and early childhood education centres. Instead of focusing attention on improving their literacy, numeracy, comprehension and communication competence, the education system is teaching them how to jerk and wine. And we wonder why the system produces such high rates of failures.
If Carnival is culture, how do we place a value on it? Many will argue that one cannot put a value in monetary terms on the promotion of culture. Inherent in this view is the untenable position that there should be no limit on the amount of resources of time, effort, and money that is to be devoted to this activity?
To the question of whether Carnival should be economically viable, the Minister of Culture has given a clear response: "Carnival is not and was never intended to be an economic enterprise." (Guardian 1/3/19) Carnival, therefore, is a festival in which people are encouraged to have fun, frolic and a rollicking time in the most unrestrained manner in the name of culture, with taxpayers contributing significantly to this merriment. A report in the Guardian of 3/3/19 states that, since the PNM Government took office in September 2015, it disbursed $628 million in four years. The byline was "it's one big fete paid for by taxpayers". At the same time, medical institutions are without basic medical supplies.
The above report also claims that none of the events hosted by the National Carnival Commission are profitable. Perhaps if Carnival was conceived as an economic enterprise, there would be no need for State intervention which in effect means withdrawing the opportunity for politicians to distribute largesse from the Treasury with electoral returns in mind. As regards the claim that Carnival is a net foreign exchange as a result of tourist arrivals, there is little evidence to support this.
Subventions from the State are not the only cost to the taxpayer and the economy. There is the huge cost of added security measures for the festival. There is also increased cost incurred at this time by the already stretched medical services. Productivity levels decline to their lowest at this period. Businessmen do not complain for two reasons. Many of them make money from the festival and secondly they do not want to be seen as opposed to the culture. Finally, one cannot put a value on the high social costs whereby many thousands have to endure diabolical decibel levels which disturbs their frame of mind and disrupts their peaceful enjoyment of property.