Basic accounting

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With deepest apologies to T.S. Elliot’s “The Hollow Men”: “The is the way the project ends: not with a bang but a whimper.”

Last week, The Telegram reported on a $1.3-million lawsuit launched by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to recover money it loaned to MyTelescope.com, an online observatory business. The project was also funded by the province.

When the provincial government handed over $315,000, this is how it described the venture in a news release: “MyTelescope.com is an example of the innovative enterprises that are emerging in the province,” said Trevor Taylor, then the minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.   

“The company is operating in a sector that holds tremendous growth potential in markets all over the world — to date, it has secured clients in Portugal,

Germany, Brazil, India and Iran. Target audiences include parents seeking educational opportunities for their children, along with the astronomy community.”

Sounds good, hey?

But maybe we can go back to “The Hollow Men” for a moment:

“Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the shadow”

The shadow, in this case, is the collapse of an idea, and often the loss of the money involved.

In MyTelescope.com’s case, ACOA is looking to recover a series of five loans.

MyTelescope.com is far from alone in facing the shadow (although it is a little hard to understand the need for five separate loans).

It is far too common to see companies lauded at their launch — especially high-tech firms — when politicians can bask in the reflected glow of new ideas and growing businesses. Think of Guigne International, for example — ACOA started court action against that high-tech company for $2.7 million in 2012 for failing to pay back loans.

Typically, money is loaned or granted, and years later, even decades later, a lawsuit is registered. Sometimes it gets spotted, often it doesn’t.

One thing’s for certain: we often hear the bang of the announcement when government officials trumpet their own support of the new and the inventive.

The whimper of its winking-out is much harder to hear. And it shouldn’t be. Companies fail — innovative companies fail, too, sometimes spectacularly. It happens.

But taxpayers who invest in projects should get a regular accounting — and the politicians who want to share the glow of success should also share information that describes the wisdom of their choices. There should be a regular release of where investments stand. You can argue that such information is a corporate secret, but on the other hand, once you take the King’s shilling, you owe some fealty to the Crown that supplied the coin.

Just as you owe some explanations to the taxpayer who funds your business.

There’s a word for that — accountability.

It means, well, accounting for what you do — even when it doesn’t suit your own business or political ends.

Otherwise:

“We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”

Organizations: Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, The Telegram, Guigne International

Geographic location: Portugal, Germany, Brazil India Iran

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  • Wallace
    May 31, 2014 - 06:29

    ACOA is an entity that funds ventures with poor busness plans or bad ideas. Ventures with good business plans and excellent ideas are easily funded thru private investors and banks. When a company goes to the ACOA well multiple times, it is like flushing taxpayers loot down the drain. Most ACOA loot is just top ups to researchers at universities

  • Disgusted with those who reigned over us.
    May 31, 2014 - 06:04

    How many thousand hair-brained schemes like these, you have mentioned, have we taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador had to fund over the past 65 years?