SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - President of the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) Alston Lourens on Wednesday said this misconception that Carnival organizers and stakeholders are fighting “just to party” belittles what the festival means for employment and economy. “We are not fighting to wukup,” he said, we are fighting to work!”
Lourens explained that the foundation fully understands concerns, but is simply asking for the a chance to remedy a terrible situation for its stakeholders and generate economic activity for the country. He stressed that there is no economic stimulus from government that can put 1,000 people to work.
“What many people do not understand or refuse to understand is that the festival in 2020 was stopped long after investments were already made not just by SCDF, but by promoters, booth holders, troupe leaders, vendors and others. “This is not a new Carnival,” Lourens said.
“St. Maarten Carnival is the only festival in the Caribbean that is burdened by this fact. Everyone else had the opportunity to cancel when COVID picked up last year with little to no consequences because they were not as far as we were with their events. We were two weeks from the first event. For the past year, persons were not able to recoup their investment and have suffered tough times.
He continued: “Carnival is not made up of rich people. Our people when they make investments depend on recouping it or making a small profit to live. We too have seen suffering due to the absence of the festival. In any given year the festival employs almost 1,000 people. Workers, booth helpers, sound crew, cleaning crews, part time promo people, heavy equipment drivers, garbage removal crews, security personnel and so on. Almost 1,000 people gain honest employment. This isn’t just about having a good time, it’s life.”
He said the foundation is grateful to the Council of Ministers for at least recognizing these realities as well as the economic activity the festival creates for the country. “The Council of Ministers gave us a chance, just a chance, to not just host a quality event that we love, but for those involved to try and get out of the financial hell last year’s stoppage caused. It is better than nothing and we are grateful,” he said, adding that government is not the competent body on Carnival, SCDF is and the information on measures has to come from SCDF.
Lourens added that Carnival is a shortened two weeks in a facility that will be controlled. “In the meantime, we have casino’s open daily, complete night life activities daily, a Festival Village that is active every weekend, in December we had Christmas villages and various other Christmas events, we have daily international flights, the country is open, schools are open, people are on radio yelling and criticizing with no masks on, restaurants in Maho for example are packed nightly with visitors and residents with no masks, Kimsha is filled with people, all of these with no strict measures being enforced by any authority about covid19 protocols. And people are losing their minds over a short Carnival with no road events?
“What other economic stimulus does government has that can put 1,000 people to work this year? There is nothing. Too long the country has shunned what we do best tourism and looked at it as a weakness to have one pillar, so far that we have weakened that same pillar looking for the pie in the sky. Carnival was the tool tourism used to strengthen its tourism product and add a month of employment to all workers on the high season. Did the government not welcome visitors back to the island? Is the country not open? He asked.
“The SCDF in invited collaboration with the Police, Government, Health Authorities and Tourism Authorities are focused on enforcing and setting protocols to keep the people who come safe as we have always done so. We know where the risks are and have planned to minimize exposure in the best way we know how to and with advice form important stakeholders locally and abroad in the festival industry.
“Again we ask the public to await our plans before jumping to conclusions, we have never let the society down and we don’t plan on doing so this time around. He stressed that the foundation is confident in its plans to keep the public safe and will release these plans on Friday via the media and its social media platforms.”
The SCDF has a two month awareness campaign planned complete with videos on digital billboards and a social media blitz.