– the funloving, but hardworking single parent
By Treena Kwenta
Hi readers! Itâ€™s at a time like this that I wish I were endowed with some flesh on my frame so that my body wouldnâ€™t reflect the stress Iâ€™m going through.
My problem? Sebâ€™s company which he has deserted in Ikeja. He ran away,Â leaving me to man a sinking boat.
Iâ€™ve been involved in management for a long time, but Iâ€™ve never run a company as the head before. So, Iâ€™ve never had the headache of wondering where the money to pay workers would come from. My lot in life has always been dependence on my salaried job, with Seb supplementing every month with a fat allowance.Â He pays the nanny and the malam at the gate as well, so, I had no money worries. That cushioned life seems to have come to an end.
I was relieved that 20 out of the 52 workers in Sebâ€™s company had decided to leave and seek employment elsewhere, but I hadnâ€™t reckoned on the implications of paying entitlements, etc. I had thought that all that was needed was source funds to pay their salaries to date; which was actually three monthsâ€™ salaries. It was the Chief Accountant, along with the part time Company SecretaryÂ who put me straight.
â€œMadam, itâ€™s good that we have this number of workers willing to leave on their own, but the majority of them have been with the company for more than ten years, so, there are benefits to be worked out and paid,â€ explained the Chief Accountant.
â€œI see. Well, letâ€™s pay the salaries weâ€™re owingÂ all the workers first, and then weâ€™ll think about that,â€ I responded.Â â€œWe can do that, canâ€™t we?â€ â€œDo what, madam?â€
â€œPay the salaries right away.â€
â€œSorry, madam, we would have done that long ago if we had the money. We didnâ€™t have the money and we donâ€™t have it now. The MD knew that all along.â€
â€œHm!â€ was all I could say, as I fumed inwardly at Seb for landing me in that soup.
â€œI thought there were some reserved funds we could draw from. I thought, maybe the MD was being cautious about dipping into them.â€ â€œWe donâ€™t have such funds anymore, madam.Â Weâ€™re quite dry. Our debtors canâ€™t pay, or, at least, thatâ€™s what they say, so, no money is coming in. Weâ€™re owing suppliers and thatâ€™s why we donâ€™t have raw materials for the factory.â€ â€œIf we canâ€™t pay salaries, how can we pay benefits to those who are leaving then? Do we have to pay them?â€
“Madam, itâ€™s written in their letters of appointment,â€ began the Company Secretary. â€œWe could be sued if we fail to comply.â€
â€œI know that, but who can afford to fulfill all that these days when thereâ€™s economic recession?â€
â€œWe have to, madam. Most of those who volunteered to leave did so on the understanding that they would be paid their benefits at once and they can move on to other things; probably set up a business of their own. If they choose to stay until made redundant, weâ€™ll owe them more salaries and at the end of the day, still pay them those benefits.â€
â€œWhat do you suggest, both of you?â€
â€œMadam,â€ said the Chief Accountant, â€œwe should try to find the money to pay everything weâ€™re owing staff. This wonâ€™t be easy, but, ma, with your influence, we could get some loans to get us out of this.â€
â€œInfluence? What influence do I have that can translate into money?â€ I asked, trying to keep frustration out of my voice. If Seb who managed the business couldnâ€™t use his influence to get money to keep afloat, what can I, a virtual outsider do? I didnâ€™t voice this out.
Silence all round. I thanked both of them, locked the door of my office, brought out my rosary and began to pray as Iâ€™ve never prayed before. When I finished, I became calmer and accepted the situation as a personal challenge that I must deal with. I took out a pad and began to make a list of people that I could approach for loans. I would revive old contacts that are moneybags, I told myself.
But are these people still financially buoyant, I asked myself. And the big question. How will the company pay them back if they do give me the required loan, since our factory is grounded and our debtors are not paying?Â Â At that point, tears of self-pity sprang to my eyes and I began to miss Vic terribly. If he were alive, he wouldnâ€™t give me the loan (bless his stingy heart), but he would guide me as to where to seek funds. Oh! Thereâ€™s Dare, the ex-bank manager.
â€œOh Treena, my darling!â€ he exclaimed on hearing my voice. â€œThe most classy lady I know! Merely hearing your voice has sent me into ecstacy!Â Youâ€™re the loveliest …â€
â€œCut out all that, Dare, you jester!Â Howâ€™s madam? How are the children and grandchildren?â€
â€œOkay! Okay! No playing the clown today.Â Madam is fine. Thanks. The children are okay too. No grand children yet since none of our kids is married. How are you doing and howâ€™s the company in Ikeja? I learnt that Uncle Seb has left you holding the baby and youâ€™re seeking for funds to pay salaries.â€
â€œSay that again, Dare! Who told you weâ€™re having problems down here? Tayo?â€
â€œTayo? Not on your life! Sheâ€™s too loyal to Seb, not to mention old you, to go blab about any discomfort you may be going through. The walls have ears, Treena dear, and we in the finance world are always the first to hear of companies in trouble. The chief accountant whoâ€™s an acquaintance of mine had actually approached me for advice some months ago; even before Uncle Seb left.â€
â€œWhat advice did he want?â€
â€œHe wanted to know if I know of an industrialist who Seb can lease or even sell the company to. He wanted also to be put in touch with an effective debt-collector who would recover for the company, all the debts owed it.â€ Were you able to help?â€ You wouldnâ€™t have been left the company by Seb if I had been able to help, Treena dear.â€
â€œSeb didnâ€™t tell me they were in debt. He said he was going to revive the branch of the company in Accra and that I should oversee things there in Ikeja. Iâ€™ve done that the other year and it was no fun. That your chief accountant friend â€˜borrowedâ€™ N3 million, and his girl friend there whoâ€™s one of those who collects debts, â€˜borrowedâ€™ N1million.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ve both paid back now, isnâ€™t it? It happens all the time when you put people in charge of money.â€
See, Dare, actually I rang to find out if you could link me up with anyone who could give the company a loan to pay the workers.â€
â€œHa! Ha! Ha! Sorry Treena dear. I wasnâ€™t laughing, really. Er, times have changed. No one will lend you money to pay salaries these days, Treena. Too risky! Havenâ€™t you been reading the papers and listening to the news?Â I thought Vanguard is at the forefront of reporting on banks and the finance world.Â Banks are barely surviving. Most of them really.Â I thank my God that I left the industry to start a consultancy all these years. Maybe I would have been kicked out; who knows.â€
â€œWhat do I do now?Â The workers are looking up to me to rescue them from their financial state. Seb has deliberately switched off his phones so I canâ€™t reach him. I feel like running away just like Seb and Coco did.â€
â€œThat wonâ€™t solve any problem. Itâ€™s good that uncle Seb left. His health was suffering.Â Look, the best person to help you is Shola, er, Tayoâ€™s GM at CLAWS.â€
â€œHeâ€™s meant to come in on Fridays, but I havenâ€™t seen him yet.â€ â€œMaybe he wants the invitation to come from you.â€
â€œI have my reservations about having him with me there. He keeps proposing marriage to me, and thatâ€™s rather distracting. I need someone serious. Besides, he keeps chasing skirts, and thatâ€™s not good for any serious company. Even Tayo knows that.â€
â€œSholaâ€™s single, so, heâ€™s free to move around as he likes. I canâ€™t do that. Anyway, I learnt heâ€™s on the verge of being born again.â€
â€œWho said that?â€ â€œHe didâ€
â€œReally?Â What led to that?
â€œEr, he was caught in a rather undignified situation, so, he told me heâ€™s going to go chaste and keep off women for the rest of this year.â€ â€œHm! Thatâ€™s a start. Praise God! What happened to him?â€
â€œHe had this new girlfriend who assured him she was single, whereas she had a fiance. SholaÂ was with her in a hotel room when the fiance turned up with some thugs; banging at the door.Â The girl opened the door, the guy came in and got Shola, not only to part with a large sum of money, but sign an undertaking never to see the girl again. He said when he had done that, the man then used a broom to beat him on the head, and then kept pushing him and beating him with the broom, all the way to the car park until he got into his car and drove away, to cheers and boos from onlookers. Quite unsettling.â€
I listened with mixed feelings; laughing and feeling sorry for the lothario. Well, if heâ€™s almost born-again, and is off women for the rest of the year, then we can work together to get the company out of the woods before his vow ends. I asked Dare what help he felt Shola can render.
â€œHeâ€™s the best debt-collector around.Â Tayoâ€™s aware of that. He has a team that recovers debts for a fee. If you can get the debtors to pay, youâ€™ll be able to settle those the company owes, and also your workers.Â Sholaâ€™s quite effective. Try him.â€
My heart began to lighten at once. A solution was in sight!Â I wanted to hear more, but I had run out of credit, and Dare has this bad habit of not ringing back when the line goes off. Tara.