Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley said having a festival that is free for all is something the government can consider but residents must understand that it will cost considerably more than the existing budget of a million dollars or less to put on the celebrations.
The 2022 Emancipation festivities is now well in the rear-view mirror of Virgin Islanders. However, during the celebrations, many complained about high entry fees to some events at the festival village.
But the Premier has said that while a free festival can be a possibility, the type of festivals that people enjoy costs money, and the money must come from somewhere.
“If you want all [the funding] to come from government, that is a decision we can have and if you want some to come from government and some to come from our sponsors – some persons are concerned about what we consider to be the commercialisation of our emancipation festival. You know those are decisions the people can make and if the government put in more, it is going to take away from something else,” Dr Wheatley explained.
“I also think it is a good thing for our businesses to be involved. Of course, they want something in return for that. Advertisement etcetera and they would want to monopolise services or whatever. It is a discussion to have, and I hope it is a discussion the festival committee has with the community,” he added.
The Premier, who is also the Finance Minister, noted that the skill of the festival committee is that they ensured the money they were given matched the festival they had.
“For instance, you did not see a big stage show in the East and the West. We had our Rise & Shine in the East, we had our cultural celebration in the West, and I think we can develop those, grow those, and make sure they are more attractive while keeping the major stage show in Road Town, that is more cost-effective,” Dr Wheatley said while speaking to members of the media at a press conference on Monday.
“But the short answer to your question is it really depends on the people of the Virgin Islands
. If the people of the Virgin Islands
want more, we must pay more. Sometimes we find ourselves wanting lots of things and those things have to be paid for but if the people of the Virgin Islands
are satisfied with a festival of this size, we clearly see that a festival of this size can be done with the money that we allocated, and I think we can do better as it pertains to private sponsorship,” the Finance Minister said.
He noted that he held a meeting with the US Virgin Islands Governor recently and one of the questions asked was how much money the neighbouring territory puts into Festival. Dr Wheatley said he was told just about $500,000.
He highlighted that the USVI has bigger celebrations, and their celebrations are free.
“That is because they get much more money than we do from corporate sponsorship. I think it is a lot more potential to get corporate sponsorship here in the BVI and we will be able to do more. I was satisfied with the celebrations. I think it was just enough and of course, there are some other areas that we can do a better job in,” the Premier said.
“I thought the money was efficiently spent and I think the committee did an amazing job managing the money they had. If they get more money, they can do more and I think we in the BVI are spoiled. We want five Rise & Shine Tramps and four, five different festivals. We have three holidays and people complain about that. I think we have a great series of activities and I think it is enough. That is just my personal view, but it is for the public to decide,” Dr Wheatley continued.