The Prime Minister of Tawa - 36
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Twenty-four hours after Clare Ferguson and her team of negotiators from Bendron Corp set foot in Tawa, Mash started to wish he were negotiating with Hanoleeyan’s emissaries rather than Bendron Corp’s CEO. Bendron Corp’s surveyors and assessors had finished their work a week before Clare’s arrival. Clare Ferguson behaved as if she were a visiting head of state rather than a corporate honcho. Clare expected to be and was treated on par with Mash. At one point, an exasperated senior bureaucrat in the economic affairs ministry said, ‘I hope she does not demand a 21-gun salute before she leaves.’ Just as in the case of the SFF, the cabinet was keen that in keeping with protocol, Mash should not be directly involved in the negotiations. But Mash knew that Dimanan was just not up to it and did not want to take a risk.
Ted had warned Mash that Bendron Corp would bargain hard, but nothing had prepared Mash for the note which Bendron Corp faxed to Mash a week before its CEO’s arrival in Tawa. Bendron Corp wanted the dam and hydro-electric project to be jointly owned, whilst the aluminium smelter would be its sole property. The Tawan government was expected to acquire the land required for the dam and the smelter and hand it over to Bendron Corp free of cost. Electricity generated from the hydro-electric project had to be supplied to the aluminium smelter at a rate of two puvees per unit, while the excess electricity from the hydro-electric project not utilised by the aluminium factory had to be purchased by the government at a price of four puvees per unit. All the construction materials required for the dam and the smelter were to be supplied by the government to the dam site and the aluminium factory site without charging Bendron Corp for transportation costs. Security at both the dam and the aluminium factory was the sole responsibility of the Tawan government. If at any stage Bendron Corp was forced to pull-back from the project on account of the lack of security, the entire cost incurred by Bendron Corp till such date would have to be refunded by the Tawan government. The list of demands went on and on. The last straw was the requirement that Bendron Corp would never have to pay any tax in Tawa on its income or profits from the hydro-electric project or the aluminium factory.
Mash had blown his top as soon as he read the demands. ‘The whole idea behind attracting foreign investment is to collect taxes from the profits they make. Shouldn’t we get something out of this as well?’ he had asked Ted Hoffman. Ted had pacified Mash. ‘You’ve been a tax consultant. This is just their initial bargaining position. You ought to know this better than me. But it is not correct to say that Tawa will get nothing out of Bendron Corp’s investment other than tax. So many people will get jobs. This investment will persuade others to invest in Tawa. So, it is definitely a win-win situation for everyone.’
Mash had gritted his teeth and got ready for the negotiations. A situation of this sort was not exactly what he had in mind when he came to Tawa. Foreign companies were not exactly paying homage to him and eating out of his hand. Clare Ferguson spent three days in Tawa during which time she visited the proposed dam site across the Quaree River and the place where the Tawan government wanted the smelter to be located.
‘So you’ve promised the SFF that you will make sure the aluminium smelter is located inside Seedaland?’ Clare sweetly asked Mash as she faced him across the table and crossed her stocking-clad legs during her last day in Tawa.
‘Well, no. Not really. No. I’ll show you a copy of the peace treaty. There’s nothing like that in it.’
‘I know. But you have promised, haven’t you? If the aluminium plant is located elsewhere, the Seedas will be upset, won’t they?’ I have you by your throat, Clare’s expression seemed to tell Mash.
Mash was stunned. ‘You seem to have made quite a few assumptions without any real basis,’ he told Clare with a reddening face. It didn’t matter whether he admitted it or not. The secret had leaked even though only a handful of people had been privy to it. Mash wondered who could have leaked it. Not that it mattered. A few civil servants did know about it. The Seedas could have leaked it.
‘Your terms are not really fair. You don’t really expect a sovereign state to make such compromises, do you?’ Mash asked her.
‘You are not in the strongest position, my dear Mr. Zoloda. At the end of the day, I’m taking a gamble. No, it’s not even Bendron Corp which is taking this gamble. It’s me. If this doesn’t work out, Bendron Corp will survive. But I won’t. Our shareholders will eat me alive. Or they might tie me to a pole and push the pole down one of the anthills in the Central Hill District so that they do not have to eat something they don’t like. The ants will do their work for them, though they may take their time about it. So….’ Clare gave Mash a million dollar smile. ‘So, I need to make sure Bendron Corp gets a very good deal.’
Despite all the discussion and wrangling they had over the past three days, they were no closer to agreement that at the time Clare arrived.
It hadn’t worked out the way Mash expected. He was hoping to provide a little demonstration to Peelee and Dimanan as to how international negotiations ought to be handled. It didn’t matter. Mash shrugged his shoulders. There would be other opportunities. ‘We are keen to have Bendron Corp in Tawa,’ Mash told Clare as he bid her farewell. Why don’t you too reconsider my proposals, which I think are very reasonable? And maybe we can do business together.’
‘Why don’t you reconsider our proposals?’ Clare retorted. ‘I mean, if you turn us away, you will have to look to some other company to make the first investment. And you will have to have a very good explanation handy for your SFF friends.’ As Mash looked at Clare’s retreating posterior as she boarded the aircraft, he realised that he was going to have to accept Bendron Corp’s terms. The chances of any other investor turning up if they rejected Brendon Corp’s offer was almost zero. Clare turned around as she reached the head of the stairway and waved at Mash. Mash waved back with an ache in his heart.
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