The decision by Winston “Gypsy” Peters to participate in the Calypso Monarch and National Extempo competitions has become a major talking point in a short Carnival season.
Peters qualified for both finals and, from all indications, is prepared to participate in both of them, with the Extempo final taking place last night.
As a calypsonian, there is no doubt that Peters deserves a place in any calypso competition, as he was crowned Calypso Monarch in 1997 with Little Black Boy and Rhythm of a People.
Twenty-seven years after his victory in the Calypso Monarch competition, his Little Black Boy holds its own as one of the most powerful, prescient and perceptive social commentary calypsoes coming out of T&T’s Carnival.
His 1986 hit Sinking Ship is also considered to a classic of political commentary, perfectly capturing in February of that year the zeitgeist of the country that resulted in the ruling People’s National Movement being swept from office in December 1986 by a 33-3 seat margin.
While there is no disputing Peters’ calypso prowess, if he steps on stage in either of the two national finals, he does so as chairman of the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the statutory body established by an Act of Parliament in 1991.
As NCC chairman, Gypsy and its board of commissioners are ultimately responsible for the millions of dollars the Government disburses through the commission to the Carnival bodies such as PanTrinbago, the organisation responsible for the operation of the National Panorama competition, and the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO), which is responsible for calypso competitions.
Part of money the NCC disburses to run the annual Carnival celebration goes to judges in both the Panorama and Calypso Monarch and National Extempo competitions.
If Gypsy decides to participate in the competition finals, as he is entitled to by virtue of his performances up to now, he places himself in the invidious position of potentially collecting a cheque that he, as NCC chairman, may have signed.
His participation in the finals of the two competitions also places the judges in the awkward position of having to decide on competitors who would include the chairman of the body that oversees all Carnival activities.
Among the objectives the NCC Act tasks the commission with is “to make Carnival a viable national, cultural and commercial enterprise,” and to provide “the necessary managerial and organisational infrastructure for the efficient and effective presentation and marketing of the cultural products of Carnival.”
At section 11, the NCC Act requires commissioners “whose interest is likely to be affected, whether directly or indirectly, by a decision of the board on a subject matter,” to disclose the nature of the interest by writing to the secretary not later than four days after the subject matter has come to his knowledge.
Whether this section of the NCC Act directly impacts on Gypsy’s active participation in the two competitions, it is clear it would be a conflict of interest for him to participate. He, however, has made it clear he will continue to do so.
The appropriate remedy, therefore, would be for Mr Peters to recognise the conflict of interest and gracefully withdraw from further participation.
Given the long temporal reach of Carnival and the statutory requirement to make it a “commercial enterprise,” the calypsonian should focus all of his time and energy in managing the 2024 Carnival and making it the most successful iteration possible.