The Prime Minister of Tawa – 47
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It took Rhymala two months after her conversation with Hanoleeyan to find out which villages would be submerged by the waters of the dam, once it was built. And when she managed to get the information, it did not come from Hepara, but from a Bendron Corp engineer supervising the construction of the dam.
After she realised that Hanoleeyan was not too worried about the villagers about to be displaced, Rhymala had decided to take matters into her own hands. In any event, there was not much to be done in her role as the minister of information technology, telecommunications, press and broadcasting. There was no money for laying cable networks or telephone lines or for anything hi-tech in particular. There were so many other low-tech matters such as laying roads and organising garbage collections that took priority. As soon as an instalment of money was received from Hepara, it was swallowed up for repairing a road or paying someone’s salary which hadn’t been paid ever since the Autonomous Council came into existence. Other than the money received from the Tawan government, the Autonomous Council had very little income of its own. Most Seedas had never paid a puvee by way of income tax and sales tax collections were almost zero as well.
Construction of the dam had started six weeks earlier. As soon as Rhymala heard that men and materials had arrived at the site, she paid a visit to that area. There were teams of men standing and walking around, laying down markers and clearing patches of land. A few dozen villagers stood around, staring and gawking at the men at work. Soon they recognised Rhymala and clustered around her. All of them had heard of the dam being built. And they all wanted to know how high the dam waters would rise.
‘Let me find out,’ Rhymala told then. Followed by the villagers, she walked up to a tall white man who stood nearby reading from a large sheet of paper. He looked as if he was in charge of the site.
‘Excuse me,’ Rhymala said. The man ignored her.
‘Excuse me,’ Rhymala said a bit louder. The man looked up from the large sheet of paper in his hand.
‘I am a minister. My name is Rhymala.’ She extended her hand to him.
The man said something in reply, but Rhymala did not understand his accent.
‘Beg your pardon?’ Rhymala had learned her English at a school run by worthy inheritors of the departing colonial masters.
‘I said I am pleased to meet you.’
‘Please, can you tell me how high the waters will rise? I need to inform the villagers if they are to be evacuated.’
The man shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t really know. We are part of the ground clearance team. We don’t do much. We just clear the area, place a few markings and after that, the construction team takes over.’
‘Is there anyone else who can help me?’
The man shrugged his shoulders again and went back to his sheet of paper.
As she walked away, the villagers clustered around her once again. Rhymala was helpless as she stood in their midst, their enquiring faces raised to hers, wondering if they would have to give up all they had and move elsewhere. She promised to find out and quickly left.
She had spent the next couple of weeks in her office at Eko, trying to call up various people in Hepara. No one really knew what was happening at the site of the dam. And so she had gone back to the dam site. It was amazing how quickly and efficiently the construction of the dam had progressed. A lot of construction materials had arrived, all of them stacked in neat piles. Most of the undergrowth had been cleared. And best of all, many of the local villagers had been hired to work on the dam.
One of the overseers, a city-bred man who was obviously from Hepara came up to Rhymala and asked her in Keenda, ‘are you a journalist?’
‘No. I am a minister. A minister in the Autonomous Council.’
‘The Autonomous Council of Seedaland.’
‘Oh, of course, of course. So far the only people who have come here are journalists.’
‘I need to know something about this dam. Please take me to the person in charge of this site.’
Rhymala was pointed in the direction of a small cabin that had been put up. ‘Please speak to the person in that cabin. He knows everything.’
Rhymala went up to the cabin and knocked on the door.
‘Who is it?’ a rough voice asked.
‘My name is Rhymala and I am from the Seedaland Council.’
‘Can I please come in?’
Unlike the last time, the speaker though a foreigner, spoke in an accent that was very much intelligible.
‘Come in,’ the man finally said. Rhymala entered to find a bearded man buttoning down his shirt.
‘How can I help?’ The man was in his forties and quite friendly.
‘My name is Rhymala and I work for the Seedaland Council. That’s the Council which administers, the Autonomous Region of Seedaland. I would ..’
‘So you are one of the rebels?’ the man asked in a booming voice.
Rhymala was at a loss of words. ‘You’re Rhymala, aren’t you?’
‘How do you know me?’
‘I think I’ve seen a photograph of you somewhere. You were the SFF negotiator during the peace talks, weren’t you?’
Rhymala was flattered. ‘I am trying to find out how high the dam waters will rise. The villagers are quite anxious. We need to plan the evacuation of the villages that will be submerged. No one in Hepara seems to have a clue about any of this.’
‘I am not supposed to give you that information, but I will. I think the plan is for the government in Hepara to disseminate this information.’
‘But they don’t have this information.’
‘I was told that detailed plans of the dam and information regarding the water levels have been sent to more than one ministry. Or they are about to be sent. I don’t know.’
The man had pulled out a few maps and plans and pointed out the villages that would be submerged. Four villages would be totally lost. A fifth one would be partly submerged.
‘And when will all this happen?’
‘It’ll take up around eighteen months to build the dam. After that, in around three weeks’ time, the water level will raise up to this level.’
‘So when should we start evacuating the villagers?’
‘I don’t know. I guess once you have resettlement areas ready, they could move. I mean, if they have to start a new life, they may as well do it earlier than later. What’s the point in farming lands which will be submerged soon?’
Armed with that information, Rhymala had gone back to Hanoleeyan, catching him during one of his rare visits to his office. ‘We need to have a team of people who will move and resettle those villagers.’
‘Don’t be in such a hurry. They haven’t sent us the money to resettle people.’
‘You’ll have to ask for it. You know how they are. We need to push them and cajole them to send us the money. This must be in addition to the twenty percent we get.’
Hanoleeyan seemed to be uninterested. His sole functioning eye had a faraway look and he had a smile on his face.
‘Can you keep a secret?’ he asked Rhymala. ‘I have some good news for Seedaland.’
‘What’s up Big Chief?’
My wife is pregnant. I’m going to have an heir.’
Hanoleeyan had his feet up on the table and the only noise in that room was from the ceiling fan that whirred away at top speed. Rhymala was silent. She was tempted to ask why this was good news for Seedaland. But she bit her tongue, wished Hanoleeyan and his wife all the very best and left quietly.
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