Big bandleaders including Mike ‘Big Mike’ Antoine of Legacy and Brian MacFarlane are opposed to paying the fees.
Antoine is against paying the registration fees because Government is giving the NCBA a subvention to run the Carnival parade.
The National Carnival Commission (NCC), he said, is in charge of Carnival and should be the one to make pronouncements on Carnival issues.
Carnival and the roads, he said belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and not to the NCBA. The President of the Republic of TT, the Mayor of Port-of-Spain and NCC, he said are the legal guardians of Carnival.
The National Carnival Development Foundation (NCDF), which also represents a number of the big bands have also come out in opposition to the implementation of the registration fees.
The NCBA, the NCDF said, “must understand the concept that the road was made to walk on Carnival Day. This is our symbol of our historical freedom of expression.”
NCBA president David Lopez told Business Day if bands do not pay the registration fees “they will not be competing.”
The fees in the senior category are, traditional bands, $150; mini bands, $250; small bands, $350; medium bands, $450; large bands, $600; kings and queens, $150; and individuals, $100.
The fees in the junior category are, mini bands, $100; small bands, $150; medium bands, $200; large bands, $250; kings and queens, $100; couples, $85; and individuals, $75.
According to Lopez the fees “are peanuts” compared to the prizes offered.
The first prize in the junior bands competition is $20,000. The first prize for the big bands competition is $300,000.
“Some of the people who play mas are not members of the NCBA. They only take part in the competition to win prizes,” Lopez said at NCBA office on Picton Street and Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain.
The NCBA, Lopez said, has instituted the registration fees to help meet administrative costs of running the Carnival activities.
Government’s annual subvention of $7.5 million, he said has not been increased over the past decade. Of that sum $6.2 million goes to prizes.
In addition to cash prizes, Lopez said, “the NCBA give financial assistance to the medium, small, mini-bands and junior bands. They get appearance fees and we assist in transportation. All these are administrative costs we have to bear without increases in our subvention.”
The registration fees bands will have to pay, Lopez said, would go back to the same people to help them in developing their creative skills.
In recent years to meet costs associated with the junior Carnival bands, Lopez said, Republic Bank has had to come on board with sponsorship. This is the fourth year that Republic bank is on board, which Lopez said, “is providing a tidy amount.”
But bandleader Ronnie McIntosh of Ronnie and Caro’s is not opposed to paying a registration fee but has concerns like Antoine and Mac Farlane about late planning and late implementation of plans.
On Monday, McIntosh, via a telephone interview he was not even aware the NCBA had introduced a registration fee. He was busy, he said ensuring all his plans were coming to fruition. He is now engaged in the distribution of costumes.
As a member of the NCBA, he said, he would have expected to be formally informed by the association of its decisions and not by the media.
On January 5, bandleaders were invited to a meeting by the NCBA at City Hall, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain where they were informed of a number of changes for this year’s Carnival including the exclusion of the Piccadilly Greens as a judging point for the bands, and the introduction of the registration fees.
While the issue of the Piccadilly Greens has been resolved and reinstated as a judging point, big band leaders are still against the payment of the registration fees.
The NCBA, McIntosh said, “should be planning and discussing with bandleaders in April, May, June, July, their strategies for the next Carnival. Let’s disagree and agree then. Not in January.”
Bandleaders, he said, “have moved on to treating Carnival as a business investing their money, time and energies, and no longer as a bacchanal.”
Some of those responsible for Carnival continue to treat Carnival as a bacchanal, even the media.
“You don’t hear from the media throughout the year. Like the mango season, you hear from them only in January. Then my phone rings off the hook. We treat our Carnival culture like the mango season.”
Like the NCBA, he said, bandleaders have expenses too.
“As a bandleader I plan my budget in advance. I already know what I have in mind for 2013. January is not the time to go looking for sponsors for additional costs.
“Everyone thinks that bandleaders are making big money. They only see the launch of the bands, the costumes and the prizes. They don’t see the costs involved,” he said.
“There is a heavy cost attached to safety and security of the bands; a heavy cost attached to renting trucks, trailers, and generators; and the production costs of costumes are very high. We have to pay for production at every level - be it local or overseas. That is why we have to treat Carnival as a business and not bacchanal.”
Bandleaders who also hire Chinese businesses to produce their designs, he said, “will tell you that the Chinese are not cheap as many would want to think.”
Now five years in the business, McIntosh said he is now breaking even on his investments and is looking forward to reaping profits in the future, when he might even be able to give away costumes.
NCC Chairman, Patrick Arnold said the issue was brought to his attention and was raised at their last board meeting on January 20.
The bands taking part in the competition must register with the NCBA, he said. “I cannot tell them (bands) to pay or not to pay.”
It is an issue, he said the bands and the NCBA has to resolve among themselves.
Asked whether it was illegal for the NCBA to institute a registration fee, Arnold said it was not.
MacFarlane and bandleader Liane Bailey opposed the registration fee on the ground that “no where in the world, performers pay to perform.”
Lopez said he agreed with them on this and as such recommend that “for 2012 and beyond bandleaders, more particularly the large bands, including Mr MacFarlane, give their costumes freely to the people who would be going on stage for them to win a prize.” When they win the cash prize, he said he hopes they share the prize with the performers.