The 2015 festival celebrations collectively exceeded budget by over half of a million dollars and it was announced that government had to find a way to cover the additional expense.
The disclosure was made during the budget debate on 22 March by Territorial At Large Representative, and Junior Minister of Tourism, Hon. Archibald Christian.
The Legislator announced that he would not like to see a repeat of the ballooning of the festival cost and asked that those involved try to curtail expenditure.
“Festival is one of those things that we have to exercise more control, either drive the cost down or stabilize the cost; but we cannot continue to increase the cost of festival every year. It is costing over a million dollars right now to fund festival,” Hon. Christian announced.
The Junior Minister added: “Based on the budget estimates we have an outstanding amount of $676,000 to be paid for festival of 2015.”
However, Mr. Christian stated that he is happy that Premier, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith was able to make payments. “The Premier has been able to find the funding to pay off those vendors, those bands and those other persons who offered their services for Festival 2015.”
“I hope that going forward we don’t have to go through this exercise of ensuring that we have to go and find extra money to cover for festival. If we budget $900,000 for festival 2016 that is what it should be. There should be no bills coming in three and four months later… We need to work within the budget and festival is one of those things,” Hon. Christian said.
DELAYS IN PAYMENTS
Following last year’ festival a number of local entertainers lamented that they did not receive payment. Hon. Christian acknowledged the claim and agreed that it is unfortunate.
“It is unfair for local vendors to still be owed money almost a year after festival…there is no other way to put it, is just unfair.”
The Legislator explained that the situation is especially unfair because the overseas artistes received payment: “You have international artist come in and they are paid. You have your own people here that you have to see everyday, look them in their eye and say we working on it, things are coming but you know we having some problems.”
He recommended that going forward, BVI performers must be the majority on any given night at festival: “We must always be the majority…two local bands, one international. The local band, the DJ, whatever they are the ones that should be front and center.”
“We cannot afford any longer to have all these international people come to the Virgin Islands get paid and our local artistes are still six, seven, eight, nine months begging to be paid.”
One commentator said that he cannot see where all that money for festival activities was spent and the public has the right to know about it in the greatest detail. He noted that there is no reason to spend over the budget money on musicians and singers: “overspending millions is a bad disease that has become fashionable lately,” he said.
During his debate contribution, Premier Smith acknowledged that there were payment delays. However, the BVI Leader assured that the slow payment was not because of the rumoured reason that the Territory is broke.
“It is true that we were not able to pay some vendors in reasonable time and the reason for this is the way in which monies come into the Treasury of the BVI. About 60 percent of the revenue to the government comes from the financial services and this comes largely in two lumps, one in May/June and one in November/December.”
In order to have a smoother payment system going forward Hon. Smith said that Government through an arrangement with a bank will be having a revolving facility that will ensure timely payment to vendors.
“We are having negotiations with a bank to establish a revolving facility…When this is done, then all vendors should be able to be paid in reasonable time and this is usually within one month. This revolving fund will be during the months of January and February before the financial services money comes in,” Premier Smith announced.