Two or three months after the June 1993 general election, Michael Ashcroft visited me in the original UBAD/Amandala building. He appeared out of nowhere, without any appointment or fanfare, and left in a similarly low-key manner. I had never met him before.
I received him in the room where our young workers used to fold the newspaper. This was a room in the southern side of the ferro-concrete building, and our building had been sinking on that side for twenty years. So, this was a dank place, and not all that bright. The conditions were not what Mr. Ashcroft was used to in his air-conditioned board meetings, I’ll say that much.
I believe Mr. Ashcroft was having a hard time with the new Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, most notably with Mr. Ashcroft’s holdings at Belize Electricity Limited (BEL). That’s as far as I remember. I suppose he would have known that I had endorsed Mr. Esquivel’s opponent in the recent election, and that there would have been some major antagonism between myself and the new Prime Minister. So, overall that would have been the area where he and I had some common ground. I’m just speculating.
The Kremandala Raiders had recently won their first semi-pro basketball championship, so I remember distinctly inviting the billionaire gentleman to buy a franchise in the league, and I remember the answer. He said, “You know, of course, that I would have to win.” I think I smiled, and I think I understood what he was saying: that he was so big, he could not afford to lose in any such domestic competition.
I was impressed by the fact of his visit, and the manner of it. I knew that the transactions between the previous PUP government and himself involving Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) shares were questionable in their nature, even suspicious. Essentially, though, I had closed my eyes to this because of the bitterness of the feud between Rt. Hon. UDP Leader Esquivel and myself. I felt that Mr. Esquivel was a man who had been ungrateful and disrespectful following his first general election victory of December 1984, then there had been his stamp down of Rufus X in 1987/88, his negative on our radio licence, and there had been the terrible paraquat spraying of 1985 …
As the years went by, and the PUP returned to office in 1998, I never examined Mr. Ashcroft’s dealings as critically as I should have. The 1994 transaction where his Belize Bank had loaned KREM Radio $75,000 for the purchase of a new transmitter had not been initiated by myself, although approved. With the agreement to loan had come an accompanying and simultaneous demand that I sell 10 per cent of the radio station to a certain “Sagis Investments Limited.” I disliked the demand on sight, but it did not spook me quite as much as it should have, because I had no idea how strategic the 10 per cent share quantity is in company law.
I had originally owned 40 per cent of KREM Radio, but in 1994 those shares had little value. KREM was hemorrhaging, and Amandala was subsidizing the station to keep it alive. So, when there came the demand for mysterious Sagis to acquire 25 per cent of my holdings, I was angry that there should have been such a conditionality for KREM to receive a simple bank loan. But, the station would get the $25,000 purchase price to finance operations, so life went on. At the time, I remember thinking that this Sagis must be Ashcroft or Ralph, a big someone.
In last week’s issue of this newspaper, we reproduced a short article from the November 4, 1994 issue of Amandala which gave a breakdown of KREM Radio’s shareholdings at that specific point. The article indicated, among other things, that Evan X Hyde owned 30 per cent and Sagis Investments Limited, 10 per cent. So then, this fact was publicly acknowledged from our side. The crux of the Ashcroft lawsuit against KREM Radio in 2007 was that Sagis had not received its share certificate. But, whose fault would that have been except Sagis’s?
In the March 2007 letter from the Barrow & Williams law firm making their claim, the Ashcroft people made a much more traumatic charge, that Kremandala had not repaid the KREM Radio loan of 1994, and that we likely and therefore owed the Belize Bank, as a consequence, some $262,000 plus. Again, this was a case of careless incompetence on the part of the Ashcroft people, or it was a case of absolute malice. The KREM Radio loan had been repaid through advertisements placed in Amandala by several, separate Ashcroft businesses for a period of more than 12 years! Those PUDP attack dogs who say otherwise are exposing their hate for self and kind. I don’t like such people.
I wonder if those many thousands of Belizean students who have been studying business over the years at the tertiary level here are taught how dangerous and cutthroat business is at the higher levels. During the years after Mr. Ashcroft had visited us on Partridge Street, there had been a couple occasions when third parties suggested I go to see him. Had I not been so historically reluctant to mingle with Europeans, I may have ended up compromised, the way I see Lord Ashcroft has compromised some of our prominent Belizean professionals. I don’t have to call names, because you have seen how desperately they behave in the Lord’s service. And, as Belizeans, while we condemn those Belizeans for such behavior, we are also sympathetic. They went swimming in water, Ashcroft water, which was too deep for them.
In closing, I’m going to say something I’ve said before in these pages. The then ruling PUP in specific, and corporate Belize in general, never intended for KREM Radio to survive and succeed. Many felt it was bad enough that a black-owned newspaper had become the leading publication in a white-supremacist society, and they could not abide Partridge Street taking over the airwaves. In preventing such a nightmare, the power structure in Belize has gone so far as attempting on separate occasions to take down our main broadcast tower on Partridge Street. These criminal acts with murderous intent are not forgotten. Trust me. We know what evil lurks in the hearts of the rulers. That is why we have, from foundation, placed our trust in the power of the Belizean people. They have never failed us. For this, we are properly grateful.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.