He has a “very cold, cold heart.”
– former Belize Times worker
This morning, three ex-employees of The Belize Times, the organ of the Opposition People’s United Party, visited Amandala to share with the public their great disappointment in their party, and to make a public plea for the rest of their money after being terminated from the newspaper last week Friday, August 10.
Doreth Bevans, lithographer, a Belize Times employee for 43 years; Rachael Kisling, the newspaper’s typist for 19 years; and Fay Castillo, its office manager for 17 years, told us that they feel that a great injustice has been done to them by the party, which they have served faithfully all those years.
They are three of five people who were terminated on Friday. The other two are office assistant Roberto Peyrefitte and cleaner Natalie Cadle, who had worked four years and one year respectively with the newspaper.
In 2008, they said, Said Musa, former Party Leader who had just handed over the reins to Orange Walk Central representative John Briceño, gave them, using checks, what Musa’s office called “gratuity” payments from a pension fund that George Price, former Party Leader and Prime Minister, had secured.
The women, after receiving their checks, calculated that they had received, in total, about $30,000, which was less than half of the $66,917.81 that the fund reportedly totaled. They said that they have never received an explanation from Musa, Fort George area representative, about what happened to the balance of the money.
Castillo said that Musa had told them that they, the six employees, would share the fund at that time, because high party officials who did not support Briceño, the new leader, did not want him to have access to the pension fund.
The payment of part of the pension fund, we were told, was never discussed publicly. Not even Johnny Briceño knew of it, the women said.
The women said that on Monday, August 6, with Tropical Storm Ernesto approaching, Party Chairman Henry Charles, after attending a meeting upstairs of the newspaper’s offices at Independence Hall, came down and asked to speak privately with the senior staff, Bevans, Kisling and Castillo. He told them that he was “pinching” them that coming Friday, August 10 – that it would be their last week at work because Party Leader Francis Fonseca, Past Leader Said Musa, and Deputy Party Leader Julius Espat had decided that they would no longer be able to fund The Belize Times.
With that information, the women visited the Labor Department on Wednesday to find out exactly what they were entitled to for their years of service, a combined total of 79 years.
On Friday, Said Musa showed up at the office with the women’s termination letters and cheques, which, they told Amandala, was far less than what they had come to expect after consulting the Labor Department. The termination letters were signed “Said W. Musa, Director, Belize Times Press Ltd.”
When they queried why the figures were so small, Musa said that they had deducted the money that was given to them from the pension fund in 2008.
The women had a heated argument with Musa, and then, Francis Fonseca showed up. He told them that he was upstairs and had heard the commotion. He told the women that he was “surprised at their actions in attacking Mr. Musa”, when they “should be grateful for all the years that they were given a salary.”
Fonseca went as far as to tell Bevans, with her almost half-century of service, that she, of all persons, should be grateful to the PUP for taking care of her and her family.
Castillo told Amandala that over the weekend, they have gotten many calls and text messages from friends, party supporters and other party officials, who told them that they should stand up against Musa and Fonseca for their rights, because the two have done similar acts to many people in the past, but those persons have remained silent about the incidents.
This morning, Monday, Bevans, Kisling and Castillo went back to the Labor Department to officially file a complaint against their former bosses regarding their severance pay, which they consider to be much less than what they should have gotten.
The women told us that they believe that Musa and Fonseca, two lawyers, used “lawyer tactics” to try to “con them out of their rightful money.” They said that the party could not find the money to pay them, but could find $10,000 per month to pay Fonseca, as Party Leader.
Also, for the first time in recent memory, The Belize Times did not produce an issue last week because, reportedly, they could not meet their payments to a private printing company that was printing their newspaper.
As far as they know, the women told Amandala, the newspaper is not going to be closed permanently, because Alberto Vellos, the editor; Chris Williams, who does the desktop work; and one reporter, Alton Humes, still remain. The staff who now man the party’s secretariat upstairs may be brought in to help the newspaper, we were told.
Fay Castillo told us that after 17 years of dedicated service to the PUP, she does not have a job.
Doreth Bevans, for her part, told us that she does not expect to work again. She gave the party her life, she said, and is badly disappointed in what they have done to her. All she wanted was the party to give her what she is due, she said, adding that Said Musa, who was very close to her over her 43 years of service, has a very cold, cold heart. She did not want to leave the job bitter, but now, she does not even want to look at him, she said.
Rachael Kisling told us that she has “gotten enough,” and does not think she will look for another job. She is “very disappointed” in the PUP and what they have done to her. She said she was once the secretary for the Pickstock Division under George Price, and was also secretary for his Belize City office when he was Prime Minister.
Around midday today, Party Leader Francis Fonseca, through a press release, said that after assuming power in October, 2012, he “immediately recognized and appreciated that The Belize Times Press Ltd. was not financially viable in its existing structure and operations, and represented a growing financial liability on the PUP.”
He said that a review he ordered “made it absolutely clear that the existing structure, operations and business model were outdated, wasteful and unsustainable…” “Some ten days ago I made the difficult but unavoidable decision to release 5 members of the Belize Times staff and family,” he further went on to say.
Fonseca says that he “regrets greatly that this decision …was necessary … and offers his personal apologies,” but that the party’s financial affairs need to be administered “with a greater sense of responsibility, accountability, and efficiency.”
Apart from a press release issued by the office of Party Leader Francis Fonseca, the senior hierarchy of the People’s United Party (PUP) has been mostly silent and/or unavailable on the immediate future of the party’s organ, the Belize Times, which saw five of seven staffers fired on Friday, and a print edition not appear for the first time in approximately 55 years of publication.
Attorney and former Party Leader of the PUP, Said W. Musa, a director of the Belize Times Limited, the company which owns and publishes the newspaper, was not available at his Musa and Balderamos law office this afternoon, and Mr. Fonseca failed to respond to numerous telephone calls.
Likewise, the party’s treasurer, Julius Espat, when we tried to reach him, was confirmed as being out of the country.
Times Editor Alberto Vellos confirmed to Amandala late this evening that the newspaper will be printed primarily online at its website, www.belizetimes.bz, “until a more efficient system for print can be found and the issues [stated in the press release] are resolved.” He added that a return to print for the Times is “hopefully not too far, in the very near future.”