BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 24, 2020– The tyrannical, “gringo” managing director, the late Robert “Bob” Phillips, after crossing paths a few times with “I and I”, and despite my known blood and philosophical links with Amandala, had decided to offer me the post of general manager of the multi-million dollar shrimp farm, Nova Ladyville. The out-going Ladyville general manger, the late Juan Dorado, a Belizean from Orange Walk, was being transferred to spearhead the development of the expansion shrimp farm down south, where he became general manager for Nova Toledo.
But this is not about shrimp farms; this is about money management, and the idea of “checks and balances,” which the current government proclaimed to be their major plank when taking power in 2008. It was all the leader chanted to masses of hopeful Belizeans, who thought we had rid ourselves of the scourge of political corruption in government. The buzz-words were “honesty, transparency, accountability.” What a long ride from 2008 to where we are today in 2020!
One morning, a few days after being officially installed as general manager in mid-1998, I got a call from the managing director to meet him in his office, along with the then chief accountant, Manuel Huitz.
I have been called a few names in my time, but never has anyone called me a “thief.”
Phillips looked across his desk over the top of his reading glasses, a half-grin, half-smirk on his face, and shifted his big grey-blue-eyed gaze from Manuel to me, and back to Manuel.
I had been guilty of hating this white man many times before then, as I had moved from supervisor, to quality control manager, and then farm production manager; but I also had grown to respect him for his decision to respect me when I dared, on principle, to disagree with some things he said, did, or wanted me to do. I therefore was not prone to a knee-jerk reaction to anything he had in mind; I would analyze it and let him know, without fear or favor, what I thought about it.
His most memorable admonishment to me, when my searching and scientific mind had rebelled against a particular shrimp feeding strategy in the company’s Farm Production Manual, after my private experiments proved it to be in error, was a stern chastisement. He had called me in from the farm to his office and began: “Charlie!”, he shouted. “God dammit! This is NOT YOUR farm.”
And after I had quietly explained the rational for my actions, he toned down and offered: “If you think there needs to be a change in the Manual, then let me know, and we can agree to make the changes. But until then, the Production Manual is our ‘bible.’ Agreed?”
I humbly agreed, because it made sense. Thereafter, I was charged with completely re-writing the Production Manual. That was some time before being elevated to the general manager post.
So, Phillips looked at me and started: He said something like, there is no room for error; and, we got to get this right. And then he dropped the bombshell: “Manuel is a thief…” This is not good, I thought. He looked at Manuel and continued: “Charlie is a thief…” and before I could collect myself to begin to wonder if I should be angry, he finished… “and I am a thief!”
Where was he going with this? He then explained that we had to fine-tune our accounting system, which included a new purchasing department that involved major expenditure on parts, equipment and supplies for our multi-million dollar operation. We couldn’t have a system that only depended on the personal honesty of any one individual. Our accounting/purchasing system must be designed to make us all “checks and balances” for each other. No one person could be signing anything without accompanying signatures to back-up the process. But, of course, no system is perfect.
The message here is that “checks and balances” are vital in any operation that involves the spending of money; and it is absolutely scary that our country’s greatest employer, our government, could be so lax in the auditing of our national accounts. That’s where it all begins, the Public Accounts Committee. I wonder if anybody has ever looked our leader in the eye and said those words I heard from our managing director?
Nova was a private company. But what about our country and its elected government? Aren’t there laws to be enforced to ensure that our tax dollars are properly spent and accounted for?
But, if a political leader is the boss of the Commissioner of Police, then who will investigate and arrest the thieving politician? That is where we are. As Jah Art said, “One thing leads to another thing, leads to the other thing…”
(P.S. Lest there be any doubt, Nova shrimp farm did not fold in January 2007 because of any financial mis-management issues. That is another story; and there are some questions for our politicians, both blue and red, that were never asked.)