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Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat embraces Lovell Francis, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education.

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There appears to be a growing rift between at least two members of the government over the construction of a stage in the sea at the Karukera One Love Music Festival with the Minister in the Ministry of Education Lovell Francis squaring off against Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat.

There is also evidence that the government knew two years ago about the plan to hold the concert in T&T with the construction of a stage in the sea and approved Francis’ visit to Guadeloupe on a “diplomatic mission” at the invitation of the promoter of the Karukera One Love Music Festival.

A Cabinet note shows that approval was granted for Francis to travel to Guadeloupe for four days in August 2018 so he could be feted by organisers of the Karukera One Love Music Festival. It cost taxpayers $5,474 to pay for Francis’ per diem for that trip.

Those funds were paid from the Ministry of Education under sub item Official Overseas Travel, a Cabinet Note dated August 2, 2018 stated. The brunt of the cost for Francis’ trip was borne by the Karukera One Love Events and included the cost of travel, accommodation and VIP tickets to the music festival.

Francis has been gushing about that trip on his social media pages since then. He also defended the construction of the controversial stage in the sea at Maracas Bay yesterday saying if it was built “there would have been no issues”. He said previous events done similarly were all problem-free.

Rambharat, who on Sunday instructed Commissioner of State Lands to rescind any support for construction of the stage in the sea in Maracas, said he could not recall Cabinet’s approval of Francis’ visit to Guadeloupe. Rambharat said since his involvement in the contentious issue from January 30 to now, Francis’ Cabinet-approved trip has not been raised.

Rambharat said he has had no interaction with the event’s organisers.

The diplomatic mission Francis was invited to was held in Saint-Francois, Guadeloupe from August 16-20, 2018.

Francis had been invited to the event two months earlier.

On August 21, 2018 the day after the diplomatic mission ended, Francis took to his Facebook page to tell of his experience.

“Morning folks. I am back home and ready to resume normal duties. This trip was eye opening and worthwhile. There is certainly much to be gained mutually by forging closer ties with Guadeloupe. Our PM is a devout and confirmed regionalist, who I am sure already sees the potential… economic and otherwise that lies therein… or else my visit would not have been approved,” Francis wrote.

Machel Montano performed at that Karukera festival.

A year later, on August 26, 2019, Francis again took to his Facebook to talk about the Karukera festival and it eventually being held in T&T.

“Hey peeps. Last year I had the great pleasure of representing us at the Karukera One Love Festival in Guadeloupe, central to which is the intent of strengthening cultural ties between our territories. Interestingly the festival is being held this year in Paris, France, but next year it is to be held right here in Trinidad and Tobago. This morning it was my pleasure to share a light moment with some of the organisers and to meet the official mascot of the festival, Cheers.”

With the recent issues being faced by the Karukera team over its planned event at Maracas Beach carded for Friday, Francis took to his Facebook page to again speak in favour of the event. He also defended the stage construction.

“Much has been made of the previously planned construction of a stage in the sea which makes little practical sense. If built there would have been no issues. This festival has been held region wide and in France without problems and I think that Trinidad is on the same planet. But that has been settled…. and five hundred visitors are expected here for this event alone and I wish the organisers well not just for the event but the evolution of a longer term relationship between us and Guadeloupe. Punto final,” Francis wrote.

Documents received by Guardian Media showed that the event received approval from the acting Commissioner of State lands Bhanmati Seecharan on February 6. The letter was sent to Jason Joseph, managing director of Madhouse J’ouvert located in Woodbrook, acting on behalf of Karukera One Love Events.

The COSL said it had “no objection” to the event but noted that “extra vigilance must, however, be maintained during dark hours”

“This no objection letter is subjected to all other statutory approvals and a demonstration on a sound contingency plan with sufficient and efficient staff in attendance,” the letter stated.

The organisers were told various agencies, including the T&T Coast Guard, T&T Police Service, Fire Service, and Life Guard Service,s should all be made aware prior to the event and on the day of the event itself, of the maximum number of persons catered for and a written contingency plan, including a communication plan, in the event of an unwanted or untimely incident.

Rambharat said because the organisers failed to address these stipulations he opted to act in the safety of the public. He said if anything happened to patrons the State would be held liable.

Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell said one of T&T’s main niches is events tourism and the organisers of Karukera One Love Events had decided to collaborate and invest millions of Euros into T&T Carnival.

He explained: “We are interested not just in the investment, they are investing millions of Euros to host this event which is world-class and world held all over the region and in Paris. The investment benefits mainly Trinidad and Tobago suppliers and artistes and the event is one in which hundreds of visitors are coming here specifically for.”

Mitchell insisted that public safety must be paramount but warned that as a country we had to ensure we promoted and protected investment in the tourism sector.

“It is important for us not to chase away investors through our adverse comments and criticism and in so doing chase away inventive and innovative efforts from foreign investors in Trinidad Carnival because we are now competing with Jamaica and Miami and Barbados.

“We are at a disadvantage because we are further away from source markets and have to continue to innovate.”