VAT increases look set to rain on the parade of many of this year’s Crop-Over band leaders.
A number of them told Barbados TODAY via telephone of their growing concernsover the effect of the 2.5 per cent VAT increase on festival costs. VAT was raised from 15 per cent to 17 per cent in November during Government’s Budgetary Proposals and recently tent managers have complained about its impact on their ability to operate this season.
Neil Robinson from Mas’ Explosion is one of the band leaders who will be watching the festivities from the side lines this year.
“Lack of sponsorship and the effect of the VAT rise on costume prices mean we just cannot afford to jump this year. We are hoping to come next year. Government needs to come to some agreement with band leaders over costs,” Robinson said.
His band will be joining Rebel Vibes and Berger Boyzz, which are both sitting out Grand Kadooment this year. “Things don’t look good,” said Bajana band leader Trydeijha Britynee. “There is a real possibility we will not be able to put on a band this year because of the increased costs.”
For an average sized band the increased tax translates into an extra $3,250 — money that many bands were said not to have.
Some of the more popular bands have their costumes starting from $500, others are starting at $300, and others range between $275 to $495.
Trevor Chase, band leader of Ooutraje expressed his outraged at the effect on VAT on the festival.
“If things carry on like this Crop-Over will die out,” said Chase. “I have had band leaders calling me in tears over the increased prices.”
Crop-Over, which brings in around $100 million for the economy, was not exempt from any taxation, a fact with which Chase disagrees with.
“If you look around at other tourist attractions, including hotels, you’ll see they all receive tax benefits,” said the band leader.
“And yet it is the smaller bands, the ones that keep the culture of Barbados alive, that are being pushed out of the festival.
“If we want Crop-Over to survive we need to group together to send a message to the Government. The alternative is losing a huge part of our culture forever,” he concluded.
President of the Barbados Association of Masqueraders, Roger Millar, was also worried.
“Things can’t continue to operate the way they are. Almost all the bands these days are subsidising their costume prices and are operating at a loss.”
Millar has even arranged to provide some financial backing for some of the smaller bands to allow them to come again this year.
Baje International, for example, is keeping its costume prices between $500 and $600, the same as last year, but that means absorbing the costs themselves.
According to Millar, the BAM has been in contact with Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler but they have learnt there would be no reduction in VAT for the festival. “That means it is up to the bands to balance costs,” explained Millar. “However, many bands are afraid to raise their costume prices in case they lose customers.”
The president also suggested that another way to counteract the rising tax costs would be to create added incentives to participate by raising prize money. However, this will not happen until 2012, at the earliest.
Registration for Kadooment bands with the National Cultural Foundation closes on Friday. A check by Barbados TODAY indicated that 14 bands were likely to sign up.
First published Barbados Today (frontpage story) May 2011.