The Prime Minister of Tawa – 49
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When Mash got up in the morning that day, his feelings were akin to the keen sense of excitement a marathon runner feels as he approaches the finish line. When so many months or even years of training come to fruition. Even though Mash hadn’t got more than four hours of sleep, he felt wide awake. The previous night, Mash, Urushambo and Ibraheem had stayed up talking, plotting, planning and scheming till the early hours of the morning. Their plans were perfect and there was not much more to be done, they all felt. Ibraheem was the most nervous of the lot, much more nervous than even Mash himself. He was in his early sixties, a man of slight build, stooping shoulders, bent back and a bald head.
‘Legally, what we are doing is right. But operationally, I’m not sure if it will all work out,’ Ibraheem kept saying.
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ They may refuse to extradite him. That’s it. You can still be the attorney general for a few years. Till you get tired of it. Then you can go back to your practice.’
‘I know, but what if we fail? Won’t the generals seek revenge?’
‘If the Generals were so powerful, wouldn’t they have killed me off as soon as I arrived?
Don’t worry. General Naranin is not so powerful anymore. He does not have such a long reach from where he is.’
‘And if we succeed, you will be the most famous attorney general Tawa has ever had,’ Mash had told Ibraheem as they parted.
As Mash left for the Central Secretariat, he realised that his life was never going to be the same again. He would either succeed in achieving something he had dreamt of every day, ever since his father had been executed or he would fail and spend the rest of his life wishing he had planned better. But no. There was nothing more he could do to get it right. There was a limit as to how much planning could be done without alerting the Army as to what he was up to. Mash clenched and unclenched his fingers as his car took him towards his destiny. As he entered the Secretariat building, he paused by a large-framed photograph of his father that hung in the main lobby.
‘Today is the day father,’ he said silently as he walked to his room.
Osirial Mennee turned up at Mash’s office on the dot at ten in the morning. Osirial Mennee had been the attorney general of Tawa for the last twenty years. He was almost eighty years old. He was as different from Ibraheem Shimanee as chalk was from cheese. Tall and erect, he still had a head covered with thick grey hair and was known to go for a long walk every morning along the beach. He had always worn thick glasses and if it had not been for his glasses, Osirial Mennee would have been in the army. Ever since he was young, Osirial had dreamt of joining the army and marching in step with his comrades. Instead, thanks to the thick reading glasses he had worn ever since the age of five, Osirial had been forced to march to a different beat. He had been an average lawyer and none of his seniors or contemporaries at the bar or even his own family expected him to scale any great height in the legal profession. However, things changed after the military take-over. Osirial was so delighted when General Naranin overthrew the civilian government of Tawa that he started attending every rally, every gathering addressed by General Naranin. The tall, ramrod erect lawyer with his mane of silver hair and thick glasses who attended every one of General Naranin’s meetings was soon spotted and brought to General Naranin’s notice. General Naranin was a man who prized loyalty about everything else. It was not long before General Naranin started consulting Osirial for legal advice. Nobody had accused Osirial of being a genius, but Osirial was hardworking, and he soon assembled a team of lawyers friendly to the military regime that could be relied on to provide sensible advice. In nineteen seventy-eight, General Naranin offered the post of Solicitor General to Osirial Mennee when it fell vacant. The promotion to the post of Attorney General took another five years, but it was inevitable. There was no one else General Naranin trusted more than Osirial Mennee in matters involving the interpretation and application of law.
By the time General Naranin fled Tawa, Osirial Mennee had acquired another reputation other than that of an army loyalist – the reputation of being honest and incorruptible. Though a big fan of the military and anyone in uniform, Osirial Mennee did not partake of the spoils of military rule. And so when Horan Samiban became the Prime Minister, no one was really surprised when Osirial Mennee was requested to continue as the Attorney General. After all, General Naranin himself had been allowed to leave for Switzerland and Horan had promised that there would be no witch-hunt for his followers. Further, Osirial Mennee was no longer just an individual. He was an institution by himself.
Osirial Mennee was escorted to Mash’s room as soon as he arrived. He did not particularly like Mash, just as he had not really liked Seleem Zoloda. If only politicians could be made to undergo a basic fitness test, Osirial Mennee felt, a pudgy man like Mash would not end up as Prime Minister.
‘Osirial-raan, how are you?’ Mash greeted Osirial Mennee.
‘I’m fine, Prime Minister-raan.’
‘All well on the legal front?’
‘Well, thanks to my team, everything goes on smoothly.’
Mash extended his hand forward in a polite indication that the Attorney General should take a seat. Osirial Mennee sat down. If it had been General Naranin instead of Mash, Osirial would not have sat down while General Naranin was standing.
‘I saw the memo you sent me regarding that estate. I agree with you. I don’t think we can allow that estate to be given back to an illegitimate son. Only a legitimate heir should be allowed to buy back nationalised property at the nominal value.’
Osirial smiled as he waited for Mash to come to the point. It was two and a half years since Mash had taken over as Prime Minister. During that time, Osirial had had only one other one-to-one meeting with Mash. He knew that in Mash’s eye, he would always be General Naranin’s man. He didn’t care. He had a job to do and he could do it well.
‘What I wanted to discuss with you today is something else. I have a project in mind. Something which will help us build on the recent success we’ve had.’
Osirial gave Mash a totally blank look.
‘You know, our success in getting Bendron Corp to invest here,’ Mash explained.
‘Ah, I’ve never really understood business matters,’ Osirial said.
Mash looked shocked at the admission. “An Attorney General who doesn’t understand business?’ he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Osirial shrugged his shoulders but did not reply.
Mash ploughed on ahead. ‘I plan to develop Tawa as a tax haven. I think we are just right for that sort of thing. So, I think we should set up an Offshore Centre in Hepara where outsiders can set up companies. Companies that are Tawan in name, but which pay a very low rate of tax applicable only to companies incorporated in the Offshore Centre, which will of course be off-limits for our own people. Something on the lines of the established havens, you know the British Virgin Islands or Mauritius or the Dutch Antilles or Jersey or Guernsey. We will sign up DTAAs with as many neighbouring countries as possible – India, China, Thailand, Singapore and the like. As well as the big ones like the UK and USA if possible. What do you think of this idea? This will require us to create a new legal framework applicable only to the Offshore Centre.’
‘Maheshdas-raan, I don’t claim to know how tax havens work. However, if you give me a month’s time, I can have my team do some research work, and then give you my opinion. You see, there are so many things I do not know. But there is nothing which I cannot learn. It’s only a matter of time, of putting in the necessary effort, asking the right people, the right questions and ..’
‘Surely Osirial-raan, you are a lawyer. I’m sure you know enough to tell me what you think of this idea. Your preliminary views?’
‘I don’t have a clue. I’m not joking. But in a month’s time, I will be an expert on this topic, I can assure you that.’
Mash looked angry. ‘This is really disappointing Osirial-raan.’
Mash looked at Osirial as if he were a schoolboy. Osirial’s nostrils flared. He sat ramrod erect as if he had been punched on his nose.
‘But never mind. You have promised me that you will educate yourself. That’s good enough for me. We need to send a team of lawyers to various countries to negotiate DTAAs once the Offshore Centre is in place. I’m sure you know what a DTAA is.’ Mash said with a laugh.
‘We do have DTAAs with many countries,’ Osirial said haughtily.
‘I’m glad you know what a Double Tax Avoidance Agreement is. But once the Offshore Centre is in place, we will have to renegotiate all of them, won’t we?’
Osirial was silent.
‘How on earth are we going to do all this?’ Mash said ruminatively, more to himself than to Osirial. ‘I wonder how long you will take to learn something you don’t know anything about. And that too at your age? Maybe we should hire someone as a project leader for this. Someone smart and knowledgeable, someone who is young and has energy.’
There was silent for a while. Then Osirial said, ‘Maheshdas-raan, maybe it’s time for me to quit. Maybe I should have done this a long time ago!’
‘I didn’t mean to ask you to leave, Osirial-raan, no, no, no, but ……but this is a brave new world. Tawa is on the threshold of change. We are almost there. We are on the cusp of an economic revolution. At this point, we cannot have any excess baggage with us. No, no, I did not mean that you are excess baggage, what I meant is that …’
Osirial Mennee had enough. He got up. ‘Maheshdas-raan, I’ll send you my resignation as soon as I reach my office. And I’ll leave as soon as you find someone to replace me.’ Without waiting for a reply, he stiffly marched out of the room, as if to demonstrate to Mash how a military officer should walk out of a room after resigning his job.
After the Attorney General left, Mash picked up the phone. He dialled Urushambo’s number. ‘Phase One successful. Osirial just left. He is going to send me his resignation,’ he said, his elation quite evident in his voice.
‘Fantastic. So, what’s next? Cabinet meeting?’
‘Yes. Cabinet plus Horan. I hope they haven’t gone anywhere.’
‘They were around till yesterday.’
‘I’ll ask Kamel to schedule the meeting for today evening. But if either Horan or Peelee isn’t around, I may have to wait.’
‘Let’s hope they are around.’
‘Tell Ibraheem that he should be ready to take over the day after. I’m planning to call up Osirial and tell him that tomorrow will be his last day in office.’
‘I hope Peelee and Horan cooperate.’
‘I know. They are the main bastards. After all, I’m going to be reversing their decision to let Naranin go.’
‘I’m sure they’ll cooperate. They both went to jail on account of General Naranin, didn’t they? Everyone knows they suffered a lot under Naranin. They’ll definitely support you in this.’ Urushambo confidently told Mash.
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