I should state here that it is a matter of some regret that the court did not have the benefit of any testimony from Mr. Said Musa of the law firm of Musa and Balderamos. His witness statement which was filed was not relied upon by the claimant. It would appear, however, from Mr. Philip Osborne’s witness statement that Mr. Musa and his law firm, Musa and Balderamos, played a crucial role in brokering the arrangement between the claimant and the defendant – see in particular paras. 18 to 23 of Osborne’s first witness statement. In fact, under cross-examination by Mr. Michael Young, S. C., the learned counsel for the defendant, Mr. Osborne, had to admit that Mr. Musa was, in his own words, “the main communicator” for the arrangement.
– from paragraph 21 of the Supreme Court of Belize judgment by Chief Justice Abdulai O. Conteh, regarding Claim No. 519 of 2007 between Sagis Investments Limited (Claimant) and Radio KREM Limited (Defendant) – May 27, 2008.
What the vast majority of Belizeans don’t realize about Said Musa is that he lost four of the first five elections in which he participated, between 1974 and 1984. (These were three general elections, a Belize City Council election, and a national convention of the then ruling People’s United Party.) During this period, he was a sidekick of Assad Shoman’s, and the two were considered inseparable as friends.
But my opinion is that Said was not the ideologue Assad was, and so when they lost their respective seats in the House in the 1984 general election, Assad, the committed ideologue, withdrew from the People’s United Party (PUP) to work, more or less full-time, with the ideologically-inclined Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR). Said began paying more attention to his North Front Street law partnership with Randolph Balderamos, but he remained active in his Fort George constituency and in the post-1984 Opposition PUP.
Ralph Fonseca returned home from Canada after his father died in a tragic traffic accident in 1979. Ralph Fonseca became the chief executive in Barry Bowen’s Belikin beer company. Then Barry fired him early in 1984. The dispute involved a bank loan in Panama which Ralph had negotiated for Barry’s abortive wood-burning-for-electricity scheme. I believe Said became Ralph’s attorney at that time. Whether this was so or not, it is for sure that Ralph became active in the PUP and became their December 1984 general election candidate in the Queen’s Square constituency.
Glenn Godfrey, at that time, may have still been studying law in Barbados, where two of his close friends were George Brown and Troadio Gonzales. Mr. Brown later became Chief Justice of Belize and was knighted by the Queen. Troadio became a Supreme Court Justice.
Many Belizeans thought the general election loss in 1984 to Manuel Esquivel’s United Democratic Party (UDP) would have been devastating to the PUP, but Rt. Hon. George Price’s charisma and mystique remained realities in the Belizean nation, especially in the Northern Districts.
Precisely when Glenn Godfrey returned home from law school I can’t say, but by 1987, when I moved to a half-finished home on Seashore Drive, he was living a couple houses down from me with his first wife, Dolores. (I believe Glenn has a first degree in English from a university in New Orleans.)
Between the three of them – Said, Ralph, and Glenn, they reconstructed the PUP, so much so that in September of 1989 the PUP defeated the UDP, narrowly. To my mind, it was Mr. Price’s historic reputation which was most important in enabling that somewhat surprising victory, but the fact that the PUP, during their campaign, promised to give Amandala a radio station licence, a licence the ruling UDP had refused, had gone down well with roots Belizeans, I believe.
Let me say at this point that there have been several occasions over the years when I gave Said Musa “a pass”, so to speak, because this is a man who supported me when I was practically down and out. Said invested $20,000 in this newspaper in 1977, enabling us to acquire modern offset technology. With such technology, we could compete with Harry Lawrence’s Reporter, which was the leading newspaper in Belize in 1977. By 1984, Amandala had become no. 1, and we began to pay our bills, then to make some money. How can I not be grateful to a man who befriended me in business when I was down and out?
But life is life, and things change. Things are changing all the time. After Said Musa became tight with Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey, he won several consecutive elections. He was undefeated from 1989 onwards, until the general election of 2008. What he gave up in return for political success, I suspect, were the things he and I had stood for in 1977. Said became neoliberal in his thinking, for all intents and purposes. At least, so it seems.
This column is about how Said Musa facilitated Lord Michael’s Ashcroft’s uninvited, unwelcome entry into KREM Radio in 1994. Said used an attorney who is my compadre to convince my dad, who was managing KREM Radio in 1994, to borrow money from Lord Ashcroft, with the hook in the bait being that Evan X Hyde had to sell 10 percent of the radio station (I owned 40 percent of KREM in 1994) to a shadowy entity called Sagis Investments Limited.
I sensed intuitively that there was something fishy about the deal, but I was at the top of my game at the newspaper and in semi-pro basketball. The newspaper was going great guns, and I guess I felt I could fight the world. ‘This Sagis thing’, I said to myself, ‘is either Ralph or Ashcroft’.
But, I am relatively ignorant in business. I did not know that 10 percent is a strategic amount in a business. When you own 10 percent of a business, you can interfere in that business in certain strategic ways. In 1994, Lord Ashcroft decided he needed to acquire leverage over KREM Radio and Evan X Hyde, and he was facilitated in the process by Said Wilbert Musa, a man who had been my friend from 1968. Still, I can understand that Lord Ashcroft’s friendship and goodwill were important to Said at the time. Said is a winner.
The PUP had gambled when they allowed me to control KREM Radio after the general election of 1989, because a radio station is a dangerous thing “in the wrong hands,” so to speak. As opposed to a newspaper, there is an immediacy in a radio station’s communication with the people. A radio station is not so dangerous nowadays, because today there are at least forty or fifty radio stations in Belize. But in 1989, there were only the government radio station (Radio Belize, Friends FM, or whatever), the British Forces radio station at Ladyville, and KREM on Partridge Street.
The fledgling KREM proved itself so powerful by 1990 that we successfully led a beverage boycott against the mighty Sir Barry Bowen. I would say that in so doing KREM was realizing the worst nightmare of the 1989-1993 PUP Cabinet: that Partridge Street had become too powerful.
It was not something the PUP Cabinet had intended to do. KREM Radio was never intended to survive. My dad is an absolutely brilliant man, but inexperienced politically. He had believed Said Musa to be KREM’s friend. This is true, but Said had other friends, more important friends.
We went through hell, but KREM survived. Then Lord Ashcroft decided he had to acquire that aforementioned leverage. He used the invented name of “Sagis,” and insisted that Evan X Hyde had to sell 10% of the company if the station were to acquire a $75,000 loan from the Ashcroft bank.
When I went to the University College of Belize (UCB) as chairman in 1999, I wondered about all the business degrees UCB was handing out to young Belizeans yearly. Did these young Belizeans have any idea how ruthless the business world is? Were young Belizeans taught how cruel it is in business out here?
Consider Lord Ashcroft. Supreme Court Justice Abdulai Conteh ruled that KREM should pay back Sagis so that Ashcroft would stay out of a roots radio station in which he did not belong. Lord Michael refused to accept the Conteh verdict. In his mind, for whatever the reason(s), he had to have that 10 percent. So, using his crazy money, he took the case to a higher court, and won. At that point, I realized this was serious business. I didn’t have the resources to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Look, I am a man who thought he was entering retirement, but the battle between the predator and the people, in a sense, is only now beginning.
Power to the people.