This was my first attempt at a novella. Its working title is The Orphans. It is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. In a series of firsts, here’s its blurb.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
From 10 January 2016, I will publish The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Four, scene one: Board silly
The board of directors of TanzCap Ltd comprised three full-time executive directors, three non-executive directors and one chairman. Della hardly ever attended board meetings, so the three full-time directors generally rotated the chair among themselves. I had been in contact with all the directors to introduce myself, and to call an extraordinary board meeting for three days hence. The only item on the agenda was to discuss the company’s involvement with JPT. Not surprisingly, none of the directors was overjoyed at what they all saw as London meddling in their affairs, but accepted that there was nothing they could do about it.
The board met in the TanzCap offices at 10am, four days after I had arrived in Dar-es-Salaam. We were well into the long rains, and planned for the meeting to be over, and all of us home, before the day’s downpour arrived around mid-afternoon.
Before we took our places, I gave all the directors a chance to see the Power of Attorney that Della had given me, to show them that I was competent to chair the meeting.
The three executive directors introduced themselves. Mr Afolabi Fonseca was the HR Director, Mr Ravindran Thakur was responsible for the finance function, and Mr Abraham Wangwe was the admin man.
I took the chair, and called the meeting to order. As it was an extraordinary meeting, we had no need to go through the usual administrative business, so we got straight down to the single item we were there to discuss. The three non-executive directors didn’t take part in any discussions, but some whispering took place between them and the three executive directors.
The meeting was brief:
I opened the meeting, “Item one; that TanzCap Ltd dispose of its interest in Jaxson Pharmaceuticals (Tanzania) Ltd. I speak on behalf of and with the full authority of Della Jont, majority shareholder and ultimate owner of TanzCap, when I say that the existing arrangement is not in the long-term interests of this organisation.”
“The shareholding in JPT represents a major part of this company’s assets,” Mr Thakur said, “It places us in a very strong position in the new and developing marketplace in non-petrochemical pharma and my analysis suggests that the promised ROI will be most favourable in the next five to ten years.”
“But at the moment,” I replied, “it is losing money. Development costs for new drugs are very high, and TanzCap has to bear 51% of that cost. Income is insufficient to meet that cost. As well as that, large sums are being paid to the orphanages, one of which is fully funded by Della Jont and hence, in a roundabout way, by TanzCap.”
Afolabe Fonseca’s face was a picture of impatience. His tone and his manner suggested to me that he resented interference from London. More than that, I felt that he was unhappy with me, an unknown woman, taking charge of the meeting. “Listen to me and let me explain,” he said. “TanzCap is a venture capital provider. We provide funds to promising young companies, to allow them to develop their businesses. If they become successful, we sell our investment at a big profit. That is what venture capital means. That is what we do. As directors, we have to take the long-term view. Even if we lose money for ten years, it will come back, many-fold.”
“I am fully aware of the role played by venture capitalists and I understand your point, Mr Fonseca, although by what stretch of the imagination a subsidiary of Jaxson Pharmaceuticals can be regarded as a ‘promising young company’ is beyond me. However, I believe what this Board has to do is what Della Jont says it has to do, and she has instructed me to ensure that TanzCap divests itself of its JPT shares. That, therefore, is what this company’s directors have to do.”
More concilatory, Mr Wangwe interjected, “Has Ms Jont given you a timetable for this? It can’t be achieved overnight, you know.”
“You are correct, of course, Mr Wangwe. What Della said to me was, and I’m quoting her directly here, ‘I want you to make sure they get rid of their interest in JPT, as a matter of urgency.’ I had taken that to mean now.”
Mr Thakur had other concerns. “That is there,” he said. “But if we follow the instruction, selling a large shareholding like that will impact on JPT’s value and could destabilise that entire sector of the marketplace. Has that been considered?”
“I don’t think Della Jont is at all concerned how it could impact Jaxson Pharmaceutical, Mr Thakur; her interest is in JCap Holdings, and of its reputation in the venture capital field. Costs apart, this operation is a hot potato. Whoever holds it risks having their fingers burnt. There are serious moral questions that have to be addressed; questions that none of us here can answer; questions that we shouldn’t, in our business as funding providers, have to answer.”
Fonseca looked at me as though I were the devil incarnate. “You will regret this,” he said, an air of menace in his voice.
“Would you care to explain that remark, Mr Fonseca?”
“Just keep in mind what I have said,” he replied.
I was keen that this shouldn’t escalate to a major row, which Fonseca’s attitude suggested was a real possibility. “I think we are finished here,” I said. “Mr Thakur and Mr Wangwe, please email your suggestions to me before the end of business tomorrow. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to clear this up within two weeks, I have business in UK that I need to get back to. Mr Fonseca, we should talk again when you have had a chance to consider this in detail and formulate your thoughts. Thank you all.”
I stood and left the boardroom. As I left, Thankur and Wangwe joined the non-executive directors in conversation. Fonseca was pacing the room with clenched fists and a face set in a deep frown. I didn’t care.