KN started with a vision for an investigative weekend journal to help rebuild the country

Dear Editor,

I refer to a letter published on September 5, 2011 in the Guyana Chronicle titled ‘Wikileaks exposes real Glenn Lall’ that mentioned my name. The anonymous letter writer said in part that “The genesis of Kaieteur News is the ‘Kaieteur Weekend World‘, started by Shaun Samaroo, John Ali of Canada, with Glenn Lall being a junior partner.

“Samaroo had mortgaged his father’s house to invest in the newspaper, and it would add to the real picture of Glenn Lall as exposed by Wikileaks if Samaroo would expose the truth of how he nearly lost his father’s house and the way Lall wrested sole ownership of the paper from the partners.

“However, Samaroo is today a supporter of the opposition and bitterly opposed to the PPP/C administration.”

As an independent and professional journalist, I am absolutely not “a supporter of the opposition,” and I am absolutely not “bitterly opposed to the PPP/C administration.” I deeply admire the PPP/C for its work to regain free and fair elections for the Guyanese people. Managing the state of a broken Guyana is definitely not an easy job, and my personal view, which is never reflected in my journalism work, is that the PPP/C must be given credit for its role in the country’s history.

I am apolitical, and do not support any political party, nor do I oppose any party. I have friends who are members of parliament, and these I support and publicly praise as good leaders because I admire their values and their heart for public service. As a journalist I do not practise politics. When I worked as a reporter during the Hoyte administration, I criticized the then government as freely and fearlessly as I today constructively criticize the PPP/C government. A journalist works to improve society. My role as a journalist is to inform the populace, the readers, and the government of the malfunctions, failures and aberrations of the society, with a view to correcting the breakdowns.

Journalists look only for the flaws that harm society, and report on these to make the society a better social environment for citizens. As a journalist I cannot aim to support any government or opposition group. Instead, my function is to sharpen accountability and good governance, whichever party forms the government of the day. So I reject the Chronicle’s maligning of my professional conduct, and its tainting of my character.

I am the founder of the Kaieteur newspaper, and the company that publishes it, National Media and Publishing Company Limited. I invented both, and the intellectual property is mine. I secured a loan with my father, Dharam Samaroo, recently deceased, using my father’s house as collateral, from the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED), as seed financing to launch the project. With the IPED funds, I purchased the printing press in Canada.

The idea for a newspaper came to me as a young reporter trained by Stabroek News, because I wanted to publish a weekend journal that focused entirely on investigative reporting, and that would also reflect solid family values, with a democratic Western mindset. The country had just won back its electoral democracy after nearly three decades in the wilderness, and I felt excited that a young Guyanese could play a dynamic role in building the future.

My friend Joseph O’Lall mentored me through this phase of my life, and his efforts to build a hydro-electric project at Teperu played a big role in encouraging me to go for the impossible.
Those were exciting times for the country, and I felt confident in stepping out as a young Guyanese.

I drafted a business plan, and approached a few businessmen to back a weekend newspaper. I received strong interest from three businessmen, including the late Ramdial Bhookmohan, a savvy business leader from Berbice. Four of us formed a group and planned the project, and everything was going smoothly. I was very young, with no business experience or training. All I had was a vision for an investigative reporting organ to help rebuild the country and prepare the nation for the fast approaching 21st century, then less than 10 years away.  However, at the last moment, Bhookmohan and the others pulled out of the project.

Planning was well advanced and I felt I could not drop the project, so I started looking elsewhere for financial backing.  O’Lall knew the Ambassador for Libya, and organized for me to meet this gentleman to talk to him about the possibility of Libya investing in the project.

I wanted the newspaper to be firmly Judeo-Christian in its editorial spirit, so I was wary of asking Libya to invest. But I went along to meet the Ambassador. I met with him, and he invited me on an all-expenses paid trip to Libya, where, he said, I would meet with someone who would discuss the funding of the project. I was encouraged to bring along a friend or two. I talked to a couple of my friends, and we all excitedly took up the offer to travel, so far away.

I was aware of Libya’s radical extremism, and felt wary about the trip, but nevertheless I was excited at the prospect of travelling on a free trip.

I spent about a month away, and not once did anyone discuss the project with me. I found that we were part of a large group of mostly Muslim people from Guyana, whom the Libyan government brought there.  Libya did such things to spread its propaganda, and I voiced my displeasure to the man appointed to be our guide on the tour. I came back to Guyana realizing that there was no way I wanted such views behind a newspaper I was going to operate.

Back in Guyana, a school friend and I started a bottom-house TV production business on a shoe-string budget, again encouraged by Mr O’Lall, a man who instilled the entrepreneurial dream in me. In the process of soliciting advertising sponsorship for these local documentaries, I encountered Mr Glenn Lall, who owned a shoe store in the Stabroek Market. I found Glenn to be generous in his advertising, and an extremely nice and kind person. He made friends easily, and was always pleasant and easy to talk to. One day he told me the horrible account of how his family was robbed and beaten and tortured by an alleged army of ‘kick-down-the-door’ hooligans. It left me feeling his pain, and how much he must have suffered. Yet he had achieved such business success at such a young age.

I wrote a profile on him in a column I wrote that was published in the Stabroek News, comparing him to F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous character, Jay Gatsby, in the exotic novel The Great Gatsby. I was fascinated by Glenn and his rich friends. I was yet in my early twenties, and I had lived a sheltered life, secured in church from the world, with my head buried in books. I hardly knew Georgetown’s social world. In Glenn I started seeing a side to life that, in my naïvete, I found fascinating.

One day I mentioned the newspaper project to Glenn Lall, and he readily agreed to think of being my business partner. I spent hours talking to him and spending time at his house. He was always a wonderful person, and his family very pleasant and welcoming. Glenn became my business partner. But he was also a great friend, humble, loyal and ambitious.

He never discussed his business life with me, except the shoe business. I knew he imported shoes from Taiwan by the container load, and bought cheap and sold for a healthy profit. People around him mentioned back-tracking, and although I felt disgusted at this, I did not take it seriously. My understanding was that he was making lots of money with shoes. Sales at his stall in the market was brisk, for sure, and he employed quite a few workers. Shortly after we agreed that we would be business partners, I travelled to Canada to buy the printing press with the check from IPED.

In Toronto, Glenn asked me to call his friend, a Mohamed Sharif. I called this gentleman, who went out of his way to accommodate me, and drive me around, and help me navigate Toronto, and close the deal on the press. During this process, with Sharif so nice, Glenn mentioned to me on the phone that we could make Sharif a partner too. I readily agreed. Sharif agreed to invest, and he travelled to Guyana, and signed up as a partner on the registered company.

After Glenn purchased the land at Saffon Street and constructed the building, we installed the press and started the newspaper with Henry Skerrit as editor and myself as publisher. I chose to call the weekender the Kaieteur Weekend World.

However, within months, Glenn, who had by now invested far more money than my Dad’s IPED loan that I had invested, decided he wanted a bigger say in the editorial of the newspaper. I objected that he was a mere investor and the editorial should be left up to media experts. I cannot remember a lot of the details, as those days were extremely traumatic for me, but one day I chose to resign, much to Glenn’s disappointment. He was very upset when I told him I wanted out of the project.

By this time, sources I had cultivated as an investigative reporter were warning me of associating with “that crowd.” I received second-hand information of business practices that I did not think fitted in with the high professional ethics I set myself as a journalist and the publisher of a weekend tabloid. When I resigned, these were the thoughts in my mind. The events of those days cause me psychological trauma to this day, as I saw my dream as a young man shattered. Eventually, I heard that Sharif had also relieved himself of his stake in the company.

This, in a nutshell, is the history of the founding of Kaieteur News, and my role in it. Shortly after resigning and relinquishing my shares, I migrated. IPED was also very unhappy, as it suffered because of the events affecting the business.

I will say again, however, that in my dealings with Glenn Lall, I have found him personally to be a gentleman, extremely generous, a superb host at his house, and a loyal friend. I admire his business acumen to make a success of Kaieteur News, and although it would have been nice to be credited for the intellectual property as founder of the newspaper, I am happy that he made my dream into a historic icon in Guyana.

As to his alleged activities outside the realm of accepted business practice, I have no first-hand knowledge. In Guyana rumour circulates freely. But in the years I have dealt with Glenn Lall, over 15 years ago now, I have no experience or personal knowledge of him using nefarious means to accumulate wealth.

Editor, in a small society like ours, it’s easy for one’s associations to be read the wrong way, as appearances can be misleading. But for my part, I tried as a young man to make a difference for my country, to contribute to the shaping of the future and to the building of a workable society for future generations. Unfortunately, the state of the society had deteriorated so badly by the early 1990s that such efforts were bound to fail. I have my own theories as to why things turned out the way they did, and in fact I explore a lot of that in a book I wrote, which is in the publishing process, about my journalism days in the 1990s.

Now, in response to this anonymous letter writer, I would like to clarify that my role in Kaieteur in its founding days aimed only to create a professional, independent, credible and informative weekend journal focused, as said above, on investigative reporting. Alas, it was not to be, and today, in 2011, we have Wikileaks doing that work for us, with the ever enduring Stabroek News continuing to be the flagship of hope for ethical public behaviour and independent thought in our land.

I hope in writing this to set the record straight about my role in the founding of the National Media and Publishing Company and the Kaieteur newspaper. I have had no contact or communication with either Glenn Lall or Mohamed Sharif over the past 17 years.

Yours faithfully,
Shaun Michael Samaroo

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