By Juanita Mitchell
Prior to its formal launch, the Liberian Observer Corporation (LOC) had a business model and was determined to operate according to universal standards that measured its performance and ensured returns on its investment.
During those early years of operation, I would drop by the Observer office after work and sometimes got to sit in on their financial meetings. I saw the need for developing the LOC’s financial operating procedures but was hesitant to step in as I had a full time job in the Accounting Department at LEC.
On one of these visits I was told by a VIP in the offices of the Daily Observer that “if you are given a task to perform, do it to the best of your ability”. This was the pre-computer era and I realized that if I got involved, I would have to crunch the numbers manually using ledgers and a calculator with tape. But I did step in and set up the operating procedures, designed the various accounting forms for use by the bookkeeper. It was an opportunity for me to learn the various terminologies and operations of the newspaper business from production to print, which I would apply a few years later as the chief accountant of the Daily Observer operations in The Gambia.
Meanwhile in Liberia, the Observer began to expand quickly and require increased accounting responsibilities. An Indian consultant was contracted to solidify the overall operations. Salaries were paid on time, a Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) loan was acquired and paid off in full, and supplies were procured locally and overseas.
An LOC subsidiary, the Yandia Printing Press (YPP), was soon established and became fully operational, printing the Daily Observer and several other newspapers. YPP bidded for and won its first contract from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to print learning materials and teachers’ manuals for Government schools throughout the country. This was a major contract with considerable earnings which providentially enabled the Kenneth Y. Best family to establish a Daily Observer newspaper in Banjul.
Fast forward, Daily Observer begins operation in The Gambia. We were all in exile and again about to start the first daily newspaper in that country. I again set up the accounting system, trained the staff which enabled the Company to run a profitable model in The Gambia. Circulation was paid for in advance by newspaper vendors, the advertising manager brought in all payments for ads timely and local and foreign subscriptions soared.
The Gambia Observer applied for a grant based on our needs and got approval, but as usual, foreign organizations want to follow the money with financial consultants. This would not be the case with me on board. I told management that we could instead use the funds to purchase our own printing equipment and a year’s consignment of operational supplies. Indeed we did get our equipment and supplies.
The Gambia Observer, like its sister paper in Liberia, was audited annually by an international auditing firm. This business principle of carrying out an annual audit showed that the management of both Observer corporations understood the value of accountability, transparency, fiscal discipline and responsibility and could be taken seriously. Upon our ouster from The Gambia, following the military coup which brought Yaya Jammeh to power, the Observer Corporation (Gambia Ltd) was left in a profitable position. Honesty and sound financial management were major contributors to making the Daily Observer newspapers in Liberia and The Gambia highly successful.