Oct. 27, 2004 The V.I. Carnival Committee, in a press conference Wednesday, said a piece of legislation currently before senators threatens the existence of carnival in the territory.
The Carnival Accountability Act, sponsored by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.
The act, if enacted, would create a Carnival Promotions Office within the Tourism Department. The director of said office would control the various carnival and festival activities on all three islands directly or by contracting with a nonprofit agency to run the activities.
The legislation stipulates that any nonprofit agency applying to run Carnival must have the tax-exempt 501(c) status. Therein lies the problem for the V.I. Carnival Committee, which does not have the tax-exempt status.
"After 52 years of Mas, splendor and fun, and being a money maker for some, the V.I. Carnival's existence is in jeopardy," Ingerborg Marrero, chairwoman of the Carnival Cultural Affairs Committee, reading from a statement, said Wednesday. "For many years, we have toiled hard to make this carnival one which we can all be proud of. Now the government has found it necessary to take control of it."
According to Marrero, Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director, revealed at a press conference in February of this year, that a minimum of $65 million is generated annually as a result of Carnival activities.
"That is a return of approximately 19.5 percent on the government's investment annually," Marrero said, adding this might be a reason why the government has now decided to take control of carnival.
Marrero said the V.I. Carnival is well known throughout the world. But senators, in particular Donastorg, seem to focus on the negative and in giving criticisms rather than appreciating the labor of those who are volunteering their services to the community.
Only two members of the committee are paid: Caswil Callendar, the executive director, and the committee's office administrator.
"One would have hoped that the government would have recognized the value of our labor and offer more support," Marrero said. "Instead, we are faced with a conspiracy designed to take over control of Carnival."
The controversy surrounding the act stemmed from the Carnival Committee's refusal to open its books to the government at the request of Donastorg. Despite being subpoenaed to do so, Callendar held the government had no jurisdiction to review its books because it was a nonprofit entity. Donastorg maintained the committee was obligated to since a large part of its funding was public funds. (See "Carnival Committee Says No to Senate Audit")
"It has been continually reported by Sen. Donastorg that we refuse to report on how the people's money is being spent, but no matter how often a lie is repeated, it does not make it become truth," Marrero said. Marrero furnished copies of a financial report to members of the media. She said the Tourism and Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioners, along with the governor, receive copies of the report annually.
The report showed the summary of total revenues and expenditures for Carnival 2003, along with an itemized listing of all private donations and a summarized expenditure of the government's grant.
The committee had total revenues of $900,031.79 for 2003 from sponsorship of activities, proceeds from shows, rides, etc., a balance of $90,880.24 from 2002 Carnival and a government grant of $325,000. Of that amount $886,571.27 was spent.
Callendar said Wednesday the government funds 40 percent of the committee's annual budget. The rest of the money comes from the private sector donations and proceeds from the previous year's event, he explained.
Territorial Court Judge Rhys Hodge recently ruled against the Carnival Committee in a lawsuit it brought against the V.I. government. He stated, based on a law signed by Gov. Charles Turnbull on July 15, the committee is subject to a government audit.
The law states the V.I. Inspector General has the authority to investigate and audit programs of governmental agencies as well as private entities receiving funding from the government. The Carnival Committee falls under both categories because it is also considered a program of the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department.
Callendar, who had received a copy of the judge's decision, said he knew the senators would have tried to legislate the audit, but he believes that the law cannot be applied retroactively before July 15, its enactment date.
Hodge said in his decision that "any and all documents relating to V.I. Carnival, including private and public contributions" can be subpoenaed, accessed and reviewed.
Callendar said at the conference that the inspector general had not approached him about an audit, but when and if he did, the committee would comply.
"We have always said that we will be in compliance with the law," Callendar said. "We have no intentions of violating the laws of the territory."
Upon questioning by the media, Callendar revealed the committee recently filed tax returns for the last six years of which no taxes had been paid.
"It's certainly not a crime to owe taxes," Callendar said, adding that many businesses out there owe taxes to the government.
Callendar, blaming the nonpayment on insufficient funding, said they had elected to not pay the taxes and use the funds they had to operate Carnival. He added he felt it was more important to have a successful carnival than to pay the taxes and not have a successful carnival.
"We're not sure at this point how much money is owed," Callendar said.
Callendar said since the fiasco with the government several private donors have pulled support. The Hotel and Tourism Association has reduced its support of the Carnival Queen Show and the West Indies Corp. has also pulled support, Callendar said.
Representatives of Sens. Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Lorraine Berry and Roosevelt David were in the audience. Donastorg, who was invited to attend, declined.
"I find the press conference to be dubious and questionable given the current situation," Donastorg said in his letter of refusal. "I am forced to wonder whether the primary intent is to malign the characters of those who have sought accountability on behalf of the taxpayers."
As the committee waits for action to be taken on the Carnival Accountability Act, all preparation of Carnival 2005 has been suspended.
Marrero said, in the event that the act is not passed, they would be prepared to have Carnival ready.
"We've worked on limited time before," Marrero said, making mention of the time the Rothschild Francis Market Square was destroyed two weeks before the Food Fair and the fair had to be transferred to Emancipation Garden. (See "Food Fair Will Move To Emancipation Garden")
If the act is passed, however, Callendar said he hopes there won't be a break in Carnival. In the history of Carnival on St. Thomas, there has only been one period of time when the event was not held. Records from the Carnival Museum show that Carnival first took place on St. Thomas in 1912 and fizzled out in 1914. After a long hiatus, Ron de Lugo, former delegate to Congress, revived the event in 1952.
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