Chapter 58 - A World Bank Loan with a Peace String Attached

The Prime Minister of Tawa – 58

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Kamel sounded perturbed when he called up Mash who was at home.

‘Maheshdas-raan, Horan-raan is here in your office. He says he wants to speak with you urgently before your luncheon meeting.’

‘That’s okay. Please give him the phone.’ Horan came on the line. ‘Maheshdas-raan, will you be coming to office today morning before you go for your meeting?’’

‘No, not today. I have to meet a few people at the Hepara Bay for lunch. So, I’m planning to go there from my home.’

‘I know. I wanted to speak with you before you go for your meeting. Is that possible?’

‘What’s the matter? Is there anything you wanted to discuss with me?’

‘Well yes! You are meeting those railway people from France, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am going to have lunch with those executives from Cinq Rail. Why do you ask?’

‘I hope you haven’t made a commitment to them yet.’

‘I haven’t. But I plan to.’

‘You don’t really have your cabinet’s approval, do you?’ Even the Railway Minister is not happy with what you’re planning to do!’

‘Horan-raan, I’m so glad that you take such an active interest in these things even though you are not a minister. If the railway minister were to tell me to my face that he does not agree with my decision, then maybe I’ll reconsider what I’m planning to do.’’

‘I may not be a minister, but I am the party secretary and the party’s finances are my concern. May I be so bold as to ask, can I come over to your house and have a quick chat with you right now? There are certain things which just can’t be discussed over the phone.’

Mash couldn’t disagree with that. ‘Sure, why not? Please come over.’

Mash put the phone down to see Heather standing behind him. ‘Are you all packed honey?’

‘Sort of. I guess I can buy whatever I need once I’m there.’

‘You can, indeed.’ Judy and Heather were all set to leave for the UK in a day’s time for their Christmas vacation. Mash was to join them a week later.

‘Some one’s coming to see me now. Do you know Horan Samiban?’

‘Horan? Of course!’

‘You shouldn’t call him that. I’m sure you know this better than me by now.’

‘Of course, Dad. I know that very well. If I meet him, I’ll say Horan-raan. It’s only when I speak with you that I use normal names for people.’

‘Where’s your mother?’

‘On the internet. Checking her mail. I think.’

‘When Horan comes, you’ll have to excuse us. I have a feeling we’re not going to have a pleasant conversation.’

‘These people are all quite nasty, aren’t they?’

‘They are, indeed, honey. But one must learn to live with them. Why don’t you go ahead and help your mother with the internet? I’m sure she could use some help.’

Horan’s usual amiable expression was switched off when he came to meet Mash.

‘You are going to meet the executives from that French company, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Maheshdas-raan, why do you want to give them the contract? The Indonesian bid is much better.’

‘Cinq Rail will do a much better job. The Indonesian bid may be lower, but that doesn’t mean they are going to turn in quality work.’ Bids had been invited to upgrade the entire railway network in Tawa. Cinq Rail had submitted a bid for seven hundred million dollars. An Indonesian firm had offered to do the job for six hundred million. But the main attraction of the Indonesian offer was that the Indonesian firm had promised to pay ten million dollars to the TFP.

‘The party needs the money Maheshdas-raan. We are halfway through our term. Elections are not so far away. Even the Railway minister says he has no reason to believe that the Indonesian company’s work will be of lesser quality.’

‘I’d like to hear him say that to my face,’ Mash said once again. ‘I wonder how much these Indonesians have offered to pay him?’

‘We all need money to stand for elections Maheshdas-raan. Why do you blame him? The system is such that this is the only way to survive as a politician.’

‘I know of some people who don’t have to worry about money for the rest of their lives. Just one simple act of betrayal and you guys managed to accumulate enough dough for the rest of your life, didn’t you?’

‘Maheshdas-raan, can’t we move on from all that? There was no way we could have avoided giving a clean exit to General Naranin. It was either a clean exit or a bloodbath. And if we were going to give him a clean exit, why shouldn’t we have got something out of him? You could even say we did the patriotic thing and got back some of the money stolen from this country.’

‘He killed my father and you let him go!’  Mash’s voice rose to a shriek.

Horan waited for a few minutes before saying, ‘we do need to move on Maheshdas-raan. All that happened in the past. There was no way we could have put General Naranin on trial. The army would not have stood for it.  And if we were to let him go, what was the harm is taking back some of his money?’

Mash was tempted to tell Horan that he was responsible for Ibraheem Shimanee’s death as well. But he decided to remain silent.

‘You are the Prime Minister. You can afford to not worry about funds for your next election campaign. The party will bear your entire costs. But shouldn’t we all do our best to make sure that the party has enough money to support all its candidates? Please do give this contract to the Indonesians. Please do this for the party, Maheshdas-raan.’

Mash gave Horan an irritated grin. ‘I’m afraid I’ve made up my mind. This project will make our railway network world class. And then we’ll have to put some half decent trains on the tracks. That’ll all come a bit later.’

‘I believe you are going to take a World Bank loan to pay for some of the costs of this project?’

‘That’s right. I must complement you. You are very well informed. The Americans are giving us a grant of five hundred million dollars. If we accept Cinq Rail’s bid, we will have to take a loan of two hundred million dollars from the World Bank to pay for this project.’

‘They will have a million conditions attached to their loan.’

‘And why not? If you were to lend your money to someone, won’t you have conditions as well?’

‘If you were to go for the Indonesian bid, you have to borrow just a hundred million dollars from the World Bank.’

‘I think I know what I’m doing Horan-raan.’

‘Is that your final decision? Horan asked angrily.

‘It is my final decision. And I plan to stick to it.’

Horan stalked off. He drove to the TFP office where the railway minister was waiting for him. Peelee and Nedeem were there as well.

‘Any change in his decision?’ Nedeem asked.

‘No. He is an adamant bastard. He’s planning to borrow two hundred thousand dollars from the World Bank to pay the balance cost of this project.’

They were all silent for a while. Then Horan said, ‘do you know, Nedeem-raan, taking a World Bank loan is very risky? The World Bank always retains the right to suspend a loan or to recall it and ask for immediate repayment. Just like any other bank.’

‘I know, I know. When they gave us fifty million earlier, they had this condition that we must be talking peace with the Seedas. A forty-year loan, no interest at all, but if we aren’t serious about peace, they can ask us for their money back,’ Nedeem said. Peelee nodded his head.

‘I guess this loan will have similar conditions,’ Horan mused. ‘What if there is a condition saying that if we start fighting with the Seedas, the World Bank can recall the loan?’

‘I doubt if they will do that. Nobody looks at the SFF with sympathy these days,’ Nedeem said.

‘But what if, what if the World Bank loan has a condition which says if the Tawan army were to recommence aggression against the Seedas, unprovoked aggression, mind you, not aggression which is in response to something, then the World Bank can yank back the loan. What if there is a clause like that in that loan agreement?’

‘Do you know if there is such a clause?’

‘We should ask Dimanan. He attended some of those meetings with the World Bank officials.’

‘Did he indeed? That’s surprising. I thought Maheshdas-raan was the only person in Tawa who had the brains to negotiate an agreement with foreigners. You see, if we ignoramuses represent the government in a meeting with westerners, we’ll convey the wrong impression about Tawa. They might go away thinking that Tawa is full of idiots who can’t speak good English. But if they meet just Maheshdas-raan, they’ll go away thinking everyone in Tawa is so smart, so intelligent, so considerate, so well versed in English…’

‘So incorruptible!’

Yeah, Maheshdas-raan is indeed incorruptible. When is he going to England this year?’

‘In a week’s time. You see, Maheshdas-raan really wanted to go to England with his wife and daughter. However, because he the only one capable of negotiating with the French company and with the World Bank, he decided to make a sacrifice and stay back for another week.’

‘Let’s call up Dimanan and ask him if there is such a clause’ Horan suggested.

‘Why don’t you ask him?’ Peelee suggested to Nedeem. ‘I am not in his good books right now.’

Nedeem fished out his mobile phone from his pocked and dialled Dimanan’s number.

‘Dimanan-raan, how are you?’

‘Dimanan-raan, I was talking to this journalist. No, no, not from the Hepara Herald. This is a free-lancer who will write what we ask him to write. I was telling him that you helped Maheshdas-raan with the negotiation for the World Bank loan, isn’t that right?’

‘Tell me Dimanan-raan, this journalist tells me that the loan agreement says if our army were to start a war against the Seedas once again, then the World Bank can recall the loan. Is that right?’

‘Okay………… okay. So, that’s all it says? Okay.’

Nedeem hung up. ‘Apparently there is a clause which says the World Bank can recall the loan if fighting breakouts once more, irrespective of who is responsible.’

There was more silence. ‘Such a great man,’ Horan finally said. He then turned to Nedeem. ‘It’s all in your hands Nedeem-raan. You’re the Interior and Defence minister. You must make sure that Maheshdas-raan’s dream is not ruined.’

‘What am I supposed to do?’ Nedeem asked.

‘Just make sure that the army does not launch an unprovoked assault against our Seeda brethren while Maheshdas-raan is away. If the army does that, we’ll all be in trouble. The World Bank may not give us the loan. So, we will not be able to hire that French company. If fighting flares up, the dam construction may have to be suspended. It won’t be a good thing for Tawa. Or for Maheshdas-raan. So, please take good care that nothing goes wrong, alright?’

‘Of course, Horan-raan, I’ll safeguard the peace while Maheshdas-raan is away,’ Nedeem solemnly promised.

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More by :  Vinod Joseph

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