With Carnival 2023 less than five months away, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA) remains in turmoil, engulfed by infighting, resignations and ongoing legal battles.
The association, recognised by the National Carnival Commission as the representative body of carnival band leaders, cannot function because its board consists of only three members–two members less than the required quorum according to the TTCBA’s by-laws.
Further complicating the situation, there are several legal matters before the court involving the organisation, the current board, former directors, and former TTCBA president Rosalind Gabriel.
In August, High Court Judge Carol Gobin granted an injunction to stop a special meeting called by the remaining members of the TTCBA board, aimed at appointing directors to meet the quorum.
A group of 17 ordinary members, including Gabriel, sought the injunction.
The group also issued a pre-action protocol letter to the TTCBA Board, claiming that the board failed to respond to a no-confidence motion filed against it.
A second matter between former board members Dune Ali, Gerard Weekes and Jacqueline Burgess, and Gabriel and the TTCBA also remains before the High Court. The claimants allege that the TTCBA held an unlawful board meeting to remove Weekes and Burgess from the executive.
And as the parties wait for judgements to be delivered, the future of the TTCBA remains uncertain just five years after taking over from the NCBA as the association representing band leaders.
Justice Carol Gobin
The Board’s account
Over the last week, the Sunday Guardian spoke to more than five senior TTCBA sources, including current directors, former directors and senior members about the state of the organisation.
All of them asked to speak off the record, saying that they were scared of, what they called, the ‘possible political repercussions’ of speaking on the record about these issues.
The Sunday Guardian understands that the board, which was elected in late 2020, split after the 2022 Taste of Carnival show.
The TTCBA sources blamed the organisation’s current state on the leadership of Gabriel, the former TTCBA president.
Gabriel, who was re-elected as president in November 2020, resigned on March 23, 2022, citing internal pressure to force her out.
Following her resignation, she formed part of a group that filed an injunction to prevent the board from holding a special general meeting to reconstitute the board.
The board and several TTCBA senior members are questioning her decision to file an injunction, saying the move is stalling the association.
They said, after all, Gabriel was one of two people who recently resigned, leaving the association short of its quorum in the first place.
The sources said disagreements with Gabriel existed for months, mainly over a perceived lack of communication between the president and her directors.
However, board sources said things hit the fan over two issues related to the 2022 Taste of Carnival Show–the implementation of a new judging system and a breakdown of how the $1 million donated by First Citizens was spent.
Judging system under question
Directors, former directors and senior members of the TTCBA have expressed concern over a ‘new judging system’ used for the Taste of Carnival 2022 Senior Kings and Queens competition.
A group of present and past board members called for an investigation to be launched by the then TTCBA president into the adjudication system allegedly implemented by chief judge Nigel Eastman.
Their call came after one of the competition’s judges reported to the board that they observed judges being handed back scoresheets to be rescored during the Kings and Queens competition in Taste of Carnival 2022.
“We said, Miss Gabriel, we have to investigate this because we understand that the judging is not fair. Something is wrong. One of the judges said two female judges were given their scoresheets to rescore by the chief judge…We said we have to find out about this system of judging that is taking place in our Carnival,” a director said.
“Eastman told us that he has a new system. There is a set of frontline judges and a backline set of judges. The frontline judges don’t determine the score, it’s the backline judges who examine the frontline judges and determine which is good for them or not good for them…That came out of the investigation.”
The board sources said before the change an aggregate scoring system was used. The aggregate system took the scores of seven individual judges. The highest and lowest scores were dropped, and then the final score was found by averaging the remaining five scores.
“He (Eastman) changed that, and naturally, now you’re more likely to have biases. The backline judges are now the ones who take the judge’s scores in the frontline and determine what the result should be…That is wrong,” a former competition judge, and senior member, said.
“The chief judge, what he does, has seven judges in front, four judges behind, and then he has the final say, which the mas fraternity doesn’t know about. So, if seven come up and say John Smith won Band of the Year, the four behind could overrule it, and if they don’t overrule it, then he could easily overrule it, and that has to be exposed,” a board member said.
Another board member confirmed a complaint was made by one of the judges about Eastman.
They said, in their opinion, the chief judge ought to have been removed from the position.
An internal investigation was conducted into the claims against Eastman, and the report determined that the judging system ought to be re-examined.
The report, which several board sources allege was sanitised, made no disciplinary pronouncements about Eastman’s alleged involvement, however.
“If you make a change to an accounting voucher, you can’t discard the voucher, you have to keep the old voucher, draw two lines through the cancel so that you could see the change…When it was asked of Eastman what he did with the old scorecard, he said, discard it…Why would you do that?” a board source recalled from the TTCBA’s tribunal.
TTCBA’s chief judge: I was cleared
Sunday Guardian contacted TTCBA’s Chief Judge Nigel Eastman for comment on the claims made by board members and former board members.
Eastman confirmed that he appeared before a TTCBA tribunal, but said he was cleared.
“That is so untrue. I use the same system–seven judges–one high, one low and the rest of the marks are used. In the lesser categories, I used five judges–the high and low are removed and I use the three scores,” Eastman said.
“They (the board) don’t even know the process and as I explained to the tribunal, it’s a process. If it is a judge writes something, I have to scrutinise it to see if there are any issues. Like, for example, if somebody puts in a mark of 53, but in their comments, they wrote–excellent production, you can’t have excellent and 53, so I would send the scores back.”
Eastman said it was ‘highly irregular’ for the board of the TTCBA to throw allegations against him, given the turmoil they find themselves in currently.
“It’s interesting to hear what the allegations are, and from whom it is coming because when I was assigned chief judge it was when Rosalind Gabriel was in charge. She checked over the system and said, go,” he said about the claims made by present and former TTCBA directors.
“Since the TTCBA has forced Gabriel out of power and some questionable people are now in power, all of a sudden a lot of allegations are coming on me; allegations I cannot understand. It’s always a case of sour grapes. They put out a band and didn’t win, so the judge do something. I choose a panel and the panel judges, I don’t judge...They want to make mediocre costumes and expect to be in the final.”
Carnival Queen 2022 Shynel Camile Brizan portrays Olugbe-Rere Ko-The Spirt who brings Good things in the African category during the Kings and Queen finals at the Queen’s Park Savannah. Port-of-Spain, in March.
'They are trying to start mischief'
Meanwhile, Gabriel accused the current and former directors, who blamed her for implementing the judging system in question, of trying to start mischief.
Saying they never proved themselves capable of the positions they held, she said, “There’s an independent group of judges who do the judging. Once everything is put in place, the judges form their own opinions independently. I didn’t judge. This issue started the entire confusion in the TTCBA.”
The TTCBA, barring a change, is expected to oversee the adjudication of many of the Carnival 2023 competitions.
The $1 million donation
According to current and former board members, despite requests, Gabriel did not provide them with a documented breakdown of how the $1 million First Citizens donated to the Taste of Carnival’s Kings and Queens competition was spent.
After the NCC provided $1.5 million to the TTCBA for the Taste of Carnival Show 2022, Gabriel secured another $1 million in sponsorship from FCB.
“The board was told that she secured $1 million from FCB. The board was not aware of how the funds were being dispersed. The board did not sit down and say, we will give first prize X, or even if we had a draft that she changed after, there was nothing. We did not know what the prize money was about, nothing at all,” an unnamed director claimed.
The claim was supported by current and former directors. Several board members and former board members said they individually asked Gabriel for a breakdown, but were never given one.
They claimed, instead, they were blocked on WhatsApp and ostracised.
“Nobody could ask her how she spent it, what she did with it, what was the prize structure and it’s like, Miss Gabriel, you have a board, why don’t you communicate with the board? And there was no answer. It’s like she was acting as though we were asking her too many questions, and then she upped and resigned,” another unnamed board source said.
“We were asking about the accountability of the $1 million and her accountability to the board was to say $820,000 was paid in prize money and $180,000 was paid in suppliers. No written document, nothing…It never even come through our account. Everything was paid through the FCB account, and that’s why we were querying it. It should have come through our account if it’s sponsorship money. That is just wrong,” a board source said.
Gabriel gives her account
The Sunday Guardian spoke to the former TTCBA president about the accusations made by the board and some former directors. She said she struggles to understand why the board is complaining about her still since she left the organisation in March, giving the board free reign.
She denied allegations that she operated as a dictator during her tenure in office.
The children's mas band leader said that due to no fault of her own, she had no choice but to run it as a one-man show.
“I went out, in the last minute, and got sponsorship from FCB–All of this was aired in the newspapers already. I never saw any members of the board in the Queen’s Park Savannah to help me with anything, except the PRO. So all who talking now, never showed their face to help anybody,” Gabriel said.
“I did my utmost best. The Taste of Carnival event was very well run. The Kings and Queens said it was the quickest they ever got paid in their lives. They got money on March 23, everybody was able to collect their prize monies. But none of that pleased the board. So when I began hearing the whispers, I quietly submitted my resignation and went home in my house and left them to run it how they want it to be run.”
Unlike the board, Gabriel believed that the split came after then TTCBA vice president Andrew Allene began allegedly blaming her for his costume's placing in the Senior Kings and Queens competition.
Gabriel also denied allegations that she was yet to account for First Citizens' $1 million donation to the Taste of Carnival 2022 show.
She said the breakdown of the prizes was available in the TTCBA office at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
“It was always there, and the breakdown of every cent of Carnival is in the NCC as well, and it has been there since Carnival finished. You could go to the NCC and they will show you the folder. What happened with the FCB money is that when they decided they would give $1 million in prizes for Kings and Queens, the breakdown was $180,000 for the NCC to help with the production of the show, and the rest of that $820,000 was distributed straight to the Kings’ and Queens’ accounts,” Gabriel said.
“I left the TTCBA with every cent accounted for. I also left the TTCBA with four years' financials–2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.”
The former TTCBA president said despite the association’s current state she was hoping that an election will be called soon, and a new, competent slate of board directors would be installed.
She was also confident that Carnival 2023 will be a quality show.
Since the TTCBA board, led by Gabriel, assumed control in November 2020, two directors (Gerard Weekes and Jacqueline Burgess) were removed, a president (Gabriel) and an acting president (Andrew Allene) resigned, while another two board members (Mark Ayen and Dune Ali) resigned.
According to the association’s by-laws, the TTCBA board cannot carry out functions unless it meets its quorum of five people.
The current board cannot convene its membership for an election until the high court injunction, filed by Gabriel and 16 others, is lifted.
A judgement is expected within two weeks.
The TTCBA was formed in January 2013 by a group of band leaders that broke away from the National Carnival Board Association which was led by David Lopez.
Lopez faced several corruption allegations from the membership during his stint as NCBA leader.
TTCBA was recognised by the Government in 2017 as the association representing local band leaders.