The Prime Minister of Tawa – 65
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June started off as an unusually depressing month for Mash. Not only did the monsoons set in, but there also seemed to be no end to the war with the SFF in sight. It was at such a time that Urushambo and Mr. Cheung came to Mash with their grand plans for their prison outsourcing project. Both Urushambo and Mr. Cheung wore traditional dress. It was the first time Mash had seen either of them in the Tawan national dress. A visit to the Central Secretariat merited the kiree and sarong, Mash presumed. Urushambo looked dignified in his white kiree and blue checked sarong, while Mr. Cheung looked quite odd. No, Mr. Cheung ought to stick to his old-fashioned black suits, Mash felt.
‘What’s all this prison outsourcing you’re planning?’ Mash asked with as pleasant a smile as possible after they had settled in his office. Urushambo had met him a week ago and briefed him, but he wanted to hear the entire story from scratch.
‘It’s very simple. The prisons in the UK, USA and Australia are overflowing. Especially in the UK and Australia which have abolished capital punishment. So, we build prisons here and ask them to send us their prisoners. We house their prisoners and send them back when their sentences have been served. And we charge the western governments a fee for looking after their prisoners. A fee that will be a lot less than what it costs them to house the prisoners there and take care of them. But which will still be sufficient to give us a decent profit.’
Mash liked the idea. Tawa was not in a position to provide IT outsourcing services or manufacture software, the way India did, or act as a factory to the world, the way China did. But it could act as a prison keeper to the world.
‘And where will this be located?’ he asked.
‘That’s the main thing Maheshdas-raan,’ Mr. Cheung said. Mash had a feeling that Mr. Cheung and not Urushambo was the real brains behind the whole project. Urushambo had not told him what his share in the project was, and Mash had not asked. Mash had a feeling that Urushambo was not investing any capital in the project. His only contribution to the project was his closeness to the Prime Minister. However, Mash did not grudge him any money he might get from Mr. Cheung and his associates out of his project. Urushambo was his friend and had always stood by him. The least he could do for Urushambo was to help him in his business plan. ‘We are planning to build the detention centre by the ocean. Nice bamboo huts guarded by specially trained security personnel. Depending on the type of prison sentences which the men are serving, they may even be allowed to walk around the beach and get some exercise. We’ll have classes for them so that those who are interested can learn something useful. We’ll teach them computers, we’ll teach them languages, we’ll teach them pottery, carpentry, plumping, cooking, whatever they want to learn. It’ll be a huge facility which can, to begin with, house five thousand prisoners in good comfort.’
As Mr. Cheung was speaking, Urushambo was fiddling with a clay paper weight which Heather had made for Mash in her pottery class. Urushambo looked up as Mr. Cheung finished speaking. ‘Mash, we are hoping to build this thing on the eastern coast. As I told you earlier, we need some uninhabited land on the beach, with lots of forest cover so that it all looks green and pleasant and it’s not easy for the prisoners to escape. It’ll be the forest behind them and the ocean in front of them.’
‘A bit like Papillon,’ Mash said.
Mr. Cheung laughed. Yes, we are hoping to start with five thousand Papillons.’
Mash smiled at the two men in front of him. ‘Go on. What do you want from me?’
‘Land,’ Mr. Cheung said. ‘We need land to build this facility. There are six of us in this consortium. We’ll build the facility at our own expense. Lots of employment will be generated. Even after it’s been built, we’ll need a hundred odd employees to run this facility which will house up to five thousand prisoners. All the employees will have to live within this facility. We’ll have to build houses for them. For them and their families.
‘How much land are you talking about?’
‘We’ll need as much land as possible, Maheshdas-raan. To start with, we’ll need at least six thousand acres. But then, we’ve got expansion plans. So, if you can give us ten thousand acres now, that’ll be even better. It’ll save us the trouble of coming back to you.’
Mash was silent.
‘I understand that it’ll not be possible for you to allot us the land just like that. I’ll leave it to you to talk to your party colleagues and tell us.’
‘What party? This is something for the cabinet to decide.’
Mr. Cheung delicately cleared his throat. ‘Won’t there be a decision to be made regarding a contribution to the party funds?’
‘Well, you are right. Possibly.’ If Mr. Cheung wanted to make a contribution to the party funds, then it was up to him. Most probably Horan would expect a payment. Mr. Cheung seemed to know the ways of the party better than he did.
‘How much do you expect to pay for this land?’ Mash asked Mr. Cheung and Urushambo. They looked shocked. Mr. Cheung cleared his throat delicately once more. ‘I was hoping that you could allot this land to us free of cost,’ he said. It was Mash’s turn to be shocked. The sheer audacity of it! Ten thousand acres of land by the coast to be given away free of cost! How could Urushambo ask him for such a favour? He wished Urushambo had told him what was on his mind when they met a week ago. At that time, Urushambo had given the impression that the consortium would pay a below-market fee for the land.
‘Let me discuss with my cabinet and the party general secretary and get back to you,’ he said. ‘How do you know that foreign countries will send you, their prisoners?’
‘We have been in touch with a few companies in the United States and UK which run private prisons there. The UK has over ten privately run prisons and the US has many more. We will be acting as sub-contractors to these private prisons. We are reasonably hopeful of getting at least three thousand prisoners to start with. And then we may get the Australians to send us the asylum seekers who land there.’
‘What are you saying? That Australia is going to send its asylum seekers to your centre. How can they do that?’
‘The Australians have tentative plans to house asylum seekers in off-shore centres while their claims are being processed. The ones who are ultimately granted asylum will go to Australia and the ones who flunk the test will have to go back to where they came from. But those plans are not yet final. There is some opposition to that from various human rights groups and all that. There’s no guarantee that these plans will work out.’
‘So, you hope to get them to send asylum seekers who land in Australia to your facility?’
‘That’s right. We can house anybody who had to be detained.’
‘You mean to say you’ll have prisoners and asylum seekers in the same compound?’
‘No, of course not. We’ll have a partition between the two sets of people. We have no guarantee as to which of our plans will work out.
‘And how will they send their prisoners to you?’
‘They’ll have to fly them to us in chartered planes. That’s their responsibility. Prisoners or asylum seekers. They’ll have to be flown to Tawa. Our responsibility starts once they reach Hepara. We put them into buses with barred windows and take them to the east coast.’
‘You ought to have an airstrip near your detention centre,’ Mash mused.
‘We did think of it,’ Mr. Cheung replied after a thoughtful pause. ‘But that’s a lot of land…. and additional expense. We’ll not only have to build an airstrip, but also maintenance facilities for the aircraft. Not to speak of hangars and control towers. Horan-raan will expect a lot more money from us if he were to give us the land for that as well.’ Mr. Cheung seemed to have a pretty good idea as to how much money Horan would demand for this land grant. On second thoughts, Mash felt that if they were going to get land free of cost, then they might as well make a contribution to the party funds. Elections were just two years away and they would need lots of money to run their campaign.
‘When would you able to speak with Horan-raan regarding this, Maheshdas-raan? Mr. Cheung asked.
‘I’m not sure. Once I have a chat with him and the cabinet, I’ll let you know what we feel.’
‘If you could let us know once you’ve spoken to Horan-raan, we’ll go and speak with him and settle the other arrangements.’ Mr. Cheung seemed to want to bargain with Horan on his own.
Two days later, Mash convened a meeting of the cabinet. He invited Horan to the meeting as well.
‘Maheshdas-raan, this Urushambo may be your friend. But he should also pay something into the party funds,’ Horan said as soon as he heard the proposal.
‘How much should he pay?’
‘Ten percent is what we normally take. He wants ten thousand acres. On the eastern coast, by the ocean, I’d say an acre in that part of the country would cost hundred thousand puvees. That’s a billion puvees worth of land. Ten percent of that would be hundred million. But of course, for a deal of this nature, he needn’t pay us hundred million. Let him pay us, hmmmm, let him pay twenty million into the party funds and another one million to each of us here. Let’s say ..’
‘Are you saying we should take a bribe from Urushambo?’ Mash demanded angrily.
‘Why not Maheshdas-raan?’ Horan replied. We’re going to give him ten thousand acres of land practically free of cost. He won’t be paying even three percent of the value of the land. He will still be saving a lot of money. And frankly Maheshdas-raan, I’m speaking on behalf of everybody in the room. We all need the money. Collections have been low for all of us so far. Especially during the first year of this term since it took you a bit of time to understand how things work. We all need to stand for elections in two years time.’
What shocked Mash the most was that none of the others in the room objected to what Horan was saying. Not even Vikan. ‘So how much money are you talking about?’
‘Let’s see, twenty million into the party’s account, one million to each of us in this room. That’s twenty-six million. Two million for Kemon-raan. And another million for the CPT, if they cause trouble. A million to take care of anyone else who causes trouble, journalists, bureaucrats and the like. But we’ll handle all that. That’s thirty million altogether, isn’t it? He just has to pay me thirty million. I’ll take care of the distribution.’
‘I don’t want to take any money from anyone,’ Mash said in a shocked voice.
‘But you should, Maheshdas-raan. Tell you what, let your share of the money go into the party fund. After all, the party is going to meet all your election expenses!’
‘Did you say two million for Kemon-raan?’
‘Yes, Maheshdas-raan. For a deal of this size, he’ll want at least a million for himself. And he’ll need another million to keep his minions quiet. If we don’t give him that, he’ll cause a lot of trouble.’
‘And if we pay him two million, he won’t protest at all?’
‘He will. He has to. He is in the opposition. That’s his job. He’ll look stupid if he doesn’t protest. But not too much. Two million means he will not overdo it.’
‘What if he takes the money and makes a lot of trouble?’
Horan sighed. ‘It could happen. But it’s very unlikely. We have done business with him a few times before, before you came to Tawa. And he has never double-crossed us. If he does that once, we’ll never do business with him again. We’ll keep a million in reserve. We can use that to take care of such eventualities.’
‘What about Peelee-raan?’ Nedeem asked Horan.
‘We don’t pay him anything,’ Mash was surprised at his own words. How much lower could he stoop to?
‘I agree,’ Horan said. ‘He is not in the ministry. And he is not the type to cause trouble.’
‘I’m curious. What sort of trouble can he cause?’
‘He can go around divulging details of the deal to journalists. He can wind up the communists and get them to cause us trouble.’
‘And do we have to pay the bureaucrats as well?’
‘Maheshdas-raan. Think for yourself. The moment we announce that ten thousand acres of government owned land are to be given away free of cost to your best friend Urushambo and his business associates, everyone with an iota of common sense will figure out that we are getting something out of it. So, they’ll also want a piece of the action.’
Mash had nothing more to say. Horan had all his ministers eating out of hand.
‘I’ll ask Urushambo to get in touch with you,’ Mash told Horan as they turned their attention to another item on their agenda.
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