Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has condemned the ban on fetes at hard court, which Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced on radio last Wednesday.
Gonsalves said that there will also be no such events at state-owned schools across the country.
“… that is absolutely contrary to the expectation of what people have and the way in which these facilities have been used to promote community activities, for having all kinds of functions all over the country,” the opposition leader said.
He told listeners to his party’s “New Times” on NICE Radio last Friday that they should push against the ban.
“… especially now coming up the carnival time, this is no coincidence, the timing of this sort of announcement. So, it’s an attempt to control people again and to make people have to come and beg and plead. And if you’re not politically-affiliated, we know how that works out,” Friday said.
On Sunday, the prime minister announced on radio that he has instructed Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar to ensure that urea stored at the La Croix Palletisation Plant are moved to ensure that carnival activities could be held there.
“So, I am very mindful of this,” the prime minister said on WE FM, adding, that he does not know where else in the world small hard court designed for sporting purposes host “this kind of activity with the number of feet pounding on these places and the fence you pushing it down and all these sorts of this.
Among the activities that usually takes place at the boxing plant is “Cheaper Wata”, which was once billed as an alternative to Hot 97’s H20 Soca, the largest privately-organised carnival activity in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Luke Boyea of Hot 97 has announced the cancellation of H20 Soca, because organisers were unable to secure a venue for the event after the government denied permission for the use of the Arnos Vales Sports Complex, which had been the host of the show for years.
Friday said that the ban would impact carnival activities as well as his party’s social events.
“But the point is, too, they (the ruling party) can use whatever facilities they want and the rest of us just simply have to wait and see when Ralph or anybody else in the government, whether they pass it on to Lotteries, or National Properties, or whoever else, the rest of the country have to wait until they say yes.”
He said that with the ban, people would have to apply to the government to get a special exemption to use hard courts for cultural events.
“Who going get those exemptions? It’s going to be politically-favoured people. So, you’re going to be shut out. Most of the people in the country going to be shut out from using public facilities, which have been part of our history of using these public facilities.”
The opposition leader agreed that public facilities must be used responsibly.
“… but if there was going to be any kind of policy with respect to their use, to say that people are abusing them and so forth, how come all of a sudden this is the case?” he said.
“This is ridiculous. Local carnival committees, local events, whether … religious events, whether they are community events, back-in-time fetes and so forth, all of these things they use hard courts, they use public facilities, and you going say that they can’t use them now until the government say yes? Come on!” Friday said.
The prime minister in his initial comments and also on Sunday on We FM, suggested that the ban would not include religious events.
The opposition leader said the problem is that the government sees everything in the country as belonging to it.
“… the people in government, they behave, Ralph and them they behave like they own everything. When we use the phrase that we don’t live on anybody’s plantation, you don’t use that lightly,” he said.
Friday said that the government wants to control how people access venues to which they have had access for years for community events and activities organised by individuals.
He said that in Bequia, which is part of the Northern Grenadines, which he represents in Parliament, the Clive Tannis Hardcourt has been used for those types of functions for years.
“People have to push back on this,” Friday said, adding that Boyea and Hot 97 had raised the issue recently when trying to secure a venue for H20 Soca.
The opposition leader, however, said there is a tendency in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for people not to speak on issues unless it affects them personally.
“… if they can’t see how it taking bread out of your mouth, then they’re not coming out and supporting somebody else.
“It’s is when you don’t do that, things go further and further down the road. First, is one event promoter that’s affected and now everybody. They saying no, you can’t do this anymore because what? We want to control who can use these facilities, that’s all it’s about.
“… we have to stand and say no, you’re not living on anybody plantation … and push back against it. Ralph don’t own them. When it says it’s for the country, this is for the government, the government is all of us.
“You can’t behave as though you own everything, and everybody got to come and ask please and beg please and when you say, then they can use them.”
Friday said everyone understands that conditions would have to be put in place for use of public facilities to ensure that they are protected for future use.
“But we want to make sure that they’re available for use as well by the community. You don’t have to always go on bended knee and beg and plead to say, ‘Well, okay, give me an exemption, give me a chance’ and if you’re not politically favoured, then you don’t get it…”
He noted that the ruling Unity Labour Party had a rally at the tarmac of the decommissioned E.T. Joshua Airport in March.
“So, when somebody wants to have an event in a facility like a hard court and so forth because that is the scale of the activity your’re doing, you’re telling them no? That because you could go on tarmac and make that your hard court that other people can’t use the other facilities?” Friday said.
“… it don’t belong to a party, it don’t belong to an individual. … they’re use commonly by the people. It’s a common good, and we should all be respectful and protective of them but we should all have access to them equally, to use them for appropriate purposes,” the opposition leader said.
“And I don’t see how they could simply ban come because one man say you can’t use the hardcourt any more to have events. So, what they going do for carnival? What are you gonna do for all these various activities you have in communities? What are you gonna do when we have a function now, when we want to have a public meeting on a hard court? They going say no?” Friday said.