The Prime Minister of Tawa – 44
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When Mash woke up in the morning, he found Judy’s note struck to his mirror. For the last few months, Mash had started sleeping in a separate bedroom whenever he spent the night at home, which was not very often. Judy spent days together locked up in her room, emerging only once in a while to get some food from the kitchen. Mash had no idea if the housekeeper and maids who worked for him gossiped about the goings-on in his house. He assumed they were, but no one asked him anything and so it didn’t really matter. In Tawa, the Prime Minister’s home was indeed his castle. Mash read the note once more before he left for the central secretariat. Heather’s play starts at five thirty. Please don’t be late, the note said. Mash slipped the note into the pocket of his kiree as he made his way to work.
That morning, Mash did not have time to read his usual newspaper and therefore he was surprised to get Horan’s phone call. Horan assumed that Mash had seen the Hepara Herald which carried the allegations on its front sheet. It took Horan a few minutes to figure out that Mash had absolutely no clue as to what was going on.
‘I’ll come there in half an hour,’ Horan told Mash as he put the phone down.
Mash was caught between an urge to protect Dimanan, who was after all a loyal colleague, and the need to maintain his image as someone totally intolerant of corruption. It was so unfair that it was Dimanan who got caught out taking money from Philip Zheng, the supplier who was awarded the contract to supply cement for constructing the dam. Before Horan arrived, Mash tried to call Dimanan, but he was not at his home and no one really knew where he was. However, he did manage to call Urushambo.
‘I’m going to fire the bastard,’ he told Urushambo.
‘Don’t do that,’ Urushambo said. ‘He may have made a mistake, but he is loyal to you. If you need to extradite that General, you’ll need as many loyal ministers in your cabinet as possible.’
‘So, do I just say that I will not punish Dimanan? Even though he has taken a bribe?’
‘Why not? Tell your ministers that you want to give him another chance. To all others, say that these charges are untrue. Has Hepara Herald produced any proof?’
‘No. Hmmm. Horan will be here soon.’
‘Oh, just hold your ground with him. Don’t tell him you’ve decided not to fire Dimanan. Tell him that you are undecided, but you plan to have a meeting of all ministers this evening and only then will you decide.’
‘Makes sense. I may call you later to bounce off a few ideas.’
‘How did this Philip Zheng pay us this money?’ Mash asked Horan when he arrived. Did he do it directly or did he get any someone else to deposit the money in our party account?’
‘As far as I know Maheshdas-raan, Philip Zheng has not paid any money into the party funds,’ Horan replied with equanimity.
‘Philip Zheng won the bid two weeks ago. Before declaring the winner, Dimanan-raan told me that Zheng-raan has promised to pay us a million puvees and so he is going to give him that contract. But he hasn’t paid us yet. Just as we’ve all been collecting money for the party funds, I assume Dimanan-raan has been collecting money towards his own election funds. The party cannot be expected to fund the entire cost of our candidates’ election campaign you know.’
‘Basically he accepted a bribe for himself.’
‘Well, yes. For himself in advance and he got this Zheng to promise to pay the party after the contract is awarded to him.’
‘How do I know that he will use the money only for his election campaign? How do I know that he isn’t using this money to meet his personal expenses?’
‘You don’t know anything Maheshdas-raan,’ Horan told Mash. Mash ignored the barb.
‘I guess the others are no different, then?’
‘You mean, do other ministers take bribes for themselves as well? Well, they might. You know them better than I do. I haven’t spoken with many of them for months together. Once an MP becomes a minister, he has very little to say to the party secretary who is not in the cabinet.’
‘So what do I do now?’
‘You’ll have to fire him from the cabinet, of course!’
‘But if all others have been doing the same thing, why should Dimanan be singled out for punishment?’
‘Because he broke our cardinal rule. Do not get caught. And I hope he doesn’t break the second cardinal rule. If you get caught, don’t spill the beans on others.’
‘Let me think it over, Horan-raan,’ Mash said having more or less made up his mind not to fire Dimanan. If it had been Peelee, Mash would have fired him on the spot.
‘Once you reach a decision on what to do, please let me know. I think you should address the party – all office bearers and not just the MPs. I’ll convene a meeting for that.’
‘I shall definitely let you know. I’m planning to call my ministers together and find out what they think.’
‘Shall I convene a party meeting for tomorrow morning?’ Horan asked Mash.
‘If you wait for a few more days, everyone will be here for the Parliament session. Otherwise, people will have to alter their travel plans.’
‘Maheshdas-raan, I don’t think you realise how important it is to assure our party men that we are taking steps to meet these allegations. We’ll also have to call a press conference and present our response to these allegations. And we need to do all that very fast.’
‘Alright. Go ahead. Convene the meeting and press conference for tomorrow morning. I think we should have the press conference first.’
‘I think we should have our party meeting first, Maheshdas-raan. We can’t have our rank and file hear from a radio station that Dimanan-raan has been fired from the cabinet.’
‘Okay. Do it your way. But, I’m yet to reach a decision. And it is quite possible that I may give Dimanan another chance.’
Horan stared at Mash for a few seconds as if he could never decipher him and then walked off with a shrug.
Immediately after Horan left, Mash asked Kamel to call a meeting of all the ministers at the Central Secretariat at four in the evening. He then tried to call up Vikan, who was not in his office and could not be reached on his mobile. As he was leaving a message for Vikan on his voice message, the Minister for Education peeped into his room.
‘Did Kamel tell you that I’ve called a meeting at four?’
‘Yes, he did. Just now. Maheshdas-raan, can I ask you something?’
‘No. I don’t have the time. Let’s discuss everything at four. At the meeting. Okay?’
The Education Minister opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something and then changed his mind. He clamped his mouth shut and left with an embarrassed smile.
‘Kamel!’ Mash shouted.
Kamel entered Mash’s office from his cubicle outside.
‘Kamel, other than Vikan, please don’t let anyone inside. Okay?’
It irritated Mash no end to realise that his ministers could not stick to a schedule. If a meeting was scheduled for four o’clock, why on earth did they want to pop in earlier and chat with him? Why couldn’t everyone in Tawa be punctual?
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