SCDF president: Government puts Carnival in danger by issuing permits to competing event

SCDF president: Government puts Carnival in  danger by issuing permits to competing event

Edwardo Radjouki

 PHILIPSBURG--Caretaker Minister of Justice Anna Richardson has informed the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) that a permit has been granted to a third party for hosting concert activities during the peak of the Carnival season.


  This decision marks an historic first in the 53-year history of Carnival, as the government allows conflicting events to take place during St. Maarten’s premier annual calendar event, prompting SCDF to denounce the move as “the ultimate betrayal”.

  SCDF said last week the foundation received confirmation from the Police Department that permits had been issued for hosting events outside of Carnival Village on the weekend of April 26-28, which coincides with Carnival’s biggest weekend. This weekend is set to feature three international shows and J’ouvert Morning Jump-Up. “The police, who have to now secure that event as well, could not indicate how they would accomplish that task,” SCDF shared in a press release on Sunday.

  Over the weekend, Edwardo Radjouki, president of SCDF, declared that it should be obvious to all that the government is deliberately sabotaging the SCDF and Carnival. Radjouki asserted that the government’s actions started from a failed attempt to put Carnival up for bid two years ago and continue now with this most recent, unprecedented action.

  “It is a slap in the face of 53 years of tradition, hard work, volunteerism, cooperation and culture, in favour of private individuals whose only goal is to profit monetarily from Carnival. The outgoing government has been on a mission to destroy the SCDF with an agenda that is so obvious a blind person can see through it. It is the ultimate betrayal,” Radjouki said.

  In a letter dated February 6 addressed to Radjouki, the minister outlined the sequence of events leading to the issuance of permits for conflicting activities during St. Maarten’s Carnival season. The minister stated that on November 9, 2023, an event organiser submitted a request for events in April, which the Ministry of Justice deemed non-conflicting with the SCDF’s permit request from January 31. Consequently, the ministry decided to grant event permits to the other organiser based on this assessment.

  “The minister cannot get around a few obvious facts: the dates of Carnival 2024 were announced in May 2023. The SCDF schedule was released in October 2023. The SCDF permit request specifically asks for permits for jump-ups, Carnival Kick-Off Block Party, parades, sale of food and beverages and paraphernalia, 79 vending booths in Carnival Village/St. Maarten Festival Village, live musical bands on stage after all parades, after parties at select booths, International Concert Shows and local-oriented shows,” Radjouki noted.

  He raised critical questions directed at the Ministry of Justice, questioning the rationale behind permitting conflicting events during St. Maarten’s Carnival season. He challenged the ministry’s decision-making process, highlighting concerns about potential conflicts with the established Carnival schedule and the implications for booth holders, promoters and police resources.

  “Exactly what is anybody in the Ministry of Justice, including the minister of justice, going to tell the public? That they forgot when Carnival is? That they forgot to compare the schedule?” he questioned. “Because unless the dates of these outside events are before Carnival or after Carnival, there exists a clear conflict. What about our booth holders who will be affected? What about the promoters of those nights who will be affected? What about the police who will be stretched thin, now being forced to secure two areas? And if you have to bring in police help from abroad, why put that extra cost on the country? What could be the reason for breaking from tradition and cooperation to put so much at risk? Did the Council of Ministers approve this? To what end does this serve the general interest?” Radjouki asked.

  Following the minister’s letter on February 6, Radjouki sought clarification on the minister’s assertion that there was no conflict regarding the permitted events. He requested precise dates of the third-party event, as it had been only speculated upon until that point. Despite his enquiries, Radjouki noted that the minister had yet to respond to these crucial questions, leaving uncertainties surrounding the decision unaddressed.

  SCDF revealed that it only became aware of conflicting dates through a meeting with the other event organiser in late February. The SCDF convened this meeting to hear a proposal from one of the promoters who currently has a night in Carnival Village. The foundation offered this night to the third party to avoid a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. In a gesture of compromise, the SCDF even proposed extending Carnival by a day to accommodate the changes. This offer to extend Carnival had already been made to the same promoter in October 2023.

  “Eventually both proposals were rejected by these third party event organisers. I guess they had their assurances from the government and were comfortable in moving forward during Carnival. But we tried to avoid the situation,” Radjouki said. “The promoters involved would cry foul if any other event organiser would have done this to them while they had a concert night in Carnival Village. Now because they don’t have a night, at no fault of the SCDF, but because they didn’t request one, they moved to do an event during Carnival, supported by forces within government, not just the Ministry of Justice either. If your product is so great, do it another time of year,” Radjouki said.

  Radjouki highlighted that promoters who had not initially sought a concert night during Carnival 2024 would only consider requesting a night outside of Carnival Village if they had received assurances from the government regarding permit approval. “There is no way that any promoter would even attempt that without assurances from the government, because everybody knows that permits for events during Carnival are not granted,” he explained.

  Dating back to the 1980s, this understanding has deep roots, as lieutenant governors and Executive Councils openly acknowledged the importance of Carnival to St. Maarten, recognising its significance for visitors, small businesses and cultural participants, SCDF noted. This also meant that the high season extended into April, with a focus on directing all security and safety efforts towards the event. “This government has now trampled on cooperation and cultural tradition without consideration of the investment all stakeholders and sponsors have made for the Carnival season,” Radjouki said.

Weaponising permits

  Radjouki said the issue of Carnival permits and how they are applied started from the first Carnival following the pandemic in 2022 when everything began to change for the foundation, including the talk of a bid.

  The first step was the stringent enforcement of the national fee ordinance, which had been gradually relaxed over the years in anticipation of Carnival. SCDF noted that this ordinance was relaxed as a gesture by the government to recognise that the event was predominantly organised by volunteers, aiming to reduce SCDF’s financial burden to the government. As a result, SCDF typically paid about US $1,000 for its general Carnival permit.

  For Carnival 2022, attempts began to disregard the previously granted exemptions for Carnival activities and enforce the fee ordinance without prior consultation. This means instead of all Carnival activities that occur in Carnival Village under the auspices of the SCDF falling under one general permit, these activities would now have to get individual permits, in particular the international nights. “It felt like the permits were weaponised against us and felt even more so when we learned that others were granted permits for the traditional month of Carnival.”

  SCDF noted its lack of preparedness for the transition, citing long-standing contracts with stakeholders that clearly stipulated Carnival Village activities falling under the SCDF’s general permit, a practice maintained for decades.

  However, during Carnival 2023, the Ministry of Justice enforced the fee ordinance, resulting in a substantial increase in SCDF’s permit fee from approximately NAf. 2,000 to around NAf. 12,000. This financial burden forced the foundation to raise fees for promoters and introduce new charges for all stakeholders during challenging economic circumstances. SCDF said it did not manage to cover the new fees until well after Carnival 2023.

The fete continues

  Even in the face of this recent challenge, the SCDF remains committed to delivering a terrific Carnival season. Radjouki praised the addition of new concert promoters, the foundation’s continued focus on showcasing local culture in the parades and the introduction of exciting new events like the Caribbean Queen Pageant and 12 new booth holders in the village. “Carnival will maintain its exceptional spirit as always. We eagerly anticipate a vibrant celebration,” Radjouki affirmed.

  “We look around the Caribbean and we see governments working with their Carnival foundations, not trying to take them over or ruin them. Right here on St. Maarten we see other festivals securing [memoranda of understanding – Ed.] MOU’s with government. We have submitted a working agreement to government over five years ago and re-submitted it two years ago and still can’t get a meeting to discuss it. We knew that one day we could get government officials with wicked intentions. So we have tried to formalise all Carnival traditions and gentlemen agreements between the foundation and the government, lest they be used against us, which is precisely what is happening now.

  “We anticipate facing challenges again this year as a result of this latest move by the government. We suspect it will be yet another financial blow brought on by our own government. Once again we are our own worst enemies. But I want to assure the public that in the 53-year history of our fete, nothing has been able to stop it. This will just be another obstacle for the SCDF to overcome. But it is one we hope to avoid in the future with hopefully a new government that is more cooperative, understanding and respectful of culture and more courteous to people in general,” he concluded.

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