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Political Polarization and Jazz Fest

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This year’s Tobago Jazz Festival, funded by the Tobago House of Assembly, will perhaps best be remembered for the interisland transportation chaos, on the air and sea bridges, preceding it.The interisland transportation woes, well documented by the media, may have triggered fear among would-be travellers resulting in fewer visitors travelling to Tobago for the festival. Although attendance figures at all the Jazz events have not been tallied, the turnout at most events was average, at best.

And if this year’s traffic congestion level, as compared to those in previous years, is a gauge for the crowd size, then none of the shows was at full capacity.

That being said Tobago Jazz Festival’s viability and benefit to the island must be reexamined.

Interestingly, the answers on its feasibility, from different sectors of the society, are largely drawn along political party lines.

Last year, the then Secretary of Tourism – Tracy Davidson-Celestine said it was important to Tobago’s economy. Her insinuation along with the suggested return on investment received sharply divisive reviews.

This year the rhetoric continued and two opposing political parties opined that funds spent on the festival could be better utilised elsewhere.

Watson Duke, Progressive Democratic Patriot’s (PDP) political leader, said the $12 million festival should be scrapped until the interisland ferry issue was resolved.

Similarly, Kevon McKenna- Tobago Forwards’ youth officer said, via Facebook, that cancelling the festival for two years can allow the THA to secure the down payment for an interisland fast ferry.

As expected, no current administration’s officials have voiced concerns about the event’s feasibility.

Intriguingly, John Arnold, Senior Tourism Coordinator for the event, has already deemed this year’s festival a success.

Duke and Mc Kenna’s statements are not without merit.

Last year, Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC), an independent body, comprising of officials from ruling and opposition political parties as well as other experts, told THA officials “to revise the “business model” for the Jazz Festival to alleviate the significant shortfall in revenue compared to expenditure… for the fiscal year 2016/2017.”

Given the economic constraints currently facing this country, the event’s viability is extremely important and soon its value to Tobago’s economy, on an annual basis, must be ascertained.

An important part of ascertaining its feasibility is making statistics, relating to the event, readily available.

It is not enough to say, year after year that it has to be restructured and yet do little to address the issue.

There is a myriad of issues related to its success including the interisland transportation system.

Simply put, it's time to rethink the annual Jazz Festival and conclusions must be based on facts, not on political party affiliation.