Protocols of Corruption Part 1: The Greedy Minister
By Lawrence Kadzitche
John Bauti owned one of the largest construction companies in the country. He gave no interviews, preferring to operate in the shadows and therefore no-one knew how he had made his vast fortune. People only speculated but then speculations are nothing but speculations. Very few people knew him by face, but his name was known all over the country.
That morning, his Mercedes AMG GT 4-door Coupe glided to a stop in front of the imposing ministerial wing of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure building. His black suited chauffer, a young man with the appearance of a weightlifter, ran around to the rear and opened the door.
Emerging from the back seat, Bauti looked as impressive as his sleek silver Mercedes. Everything about him exuded wealth and vitality. He exercised regularly and this gave his body an athletic physique. His two-button modern fit black suit with slim contoured jacket and flat front trousers fitted him faultlessly. The matching black glass shoes gleamed in the morning sunshine. He straightened his red tie, buttoned the top button of the suit and then glanced at his Rolex wristwatch.
The chauffer picked a genuine leather black briefcase from the front passenger seat and handed it over to Bauti. The businessman walked with purpose and authority toward the glass door at the entrance to the ministerial wing of the building clasping the attaché case in his right hand. The security officer manning the door had already espied the vehicle he had disembarked from with the personalised registration number, BAUTI 1 and knew who the elegantly dressed gentleman was and therefore let him in without any delays. Escorted by the commissionaire from the reception, he went into the elevator and waited patiently as the elevator made its way up to the fourth floor. He allowed the commissionaire to guide him although he already knew the way. The commissionaire left after ushering him into an office with the tag ‘Minister’ on the door.
The minister’s secretary was a shabbily dressed young woman of not more than thirty. She had no claim to beauty having been endowed with a shapeless body and a moon shaped face with large eyes, a wide nose and thick lips that gave her a look of a toad. A desktop computer stood on a neat desk. Upon Bauti’s entry, the secretary rose to her feet, toying with a pencil.
“Good morning, sir,” she said. “How can I help you?”
Bauti smiled and slight dimples appeared in his cheeks. He must have taken after his mother, thought the secretary. Tall and with a light complexion, Bauti was one of those men whom women found very attractive. But he was not a womaniser. He only used the effect he had on women to advance his business interests.
“I’m here to see the minister,” he responded, giving her his cultivated smile that showed his snow-white big teeth.
“You’ve an appointment, sir?”
The businessman smiled again. He had visited this office several times in the past. But that was during the term of office of the previous minister. But now the government had changed hands and the new minister had brought in completely new staff. In a few months all of them would be familiar with him, he thought with a smile.
“No, but the minister will see me,” he said at length and winked at the secretary.
The secretary swallowed, the wink setting her nerves in a flutter. The frank admiration in the businessman’s eyes did not escape her experienced eyes. May be this could be her lucky day if she gave him a favour. It is not every day that you found a devastatingly good looking making it obvious he fancied you rotten. She wondered how it would feel to have his manly arms around her.
“Madam…” the handsome businessman voice intruded into her thought.
With a jolt, she realised that her mind had wandered. She covered her embarrassment by re-arranging some papers on the desk. Again, she wished to break the minister’s rules so that the man should see that she had granted him a special favour. But then the minister was very specific on not letting any visitors in without appointments. The previous secretary had been transferred for breaking this rule. And so, “I’m sorry, sir, but the minister does not see people without an appointment,” she said in a voice tinged with regret.
Instead of responding, the man dipped his hand into his breast pocket and fished out a business card which he passed on to the secretary. While the secretary had not recognised Bauti, she immediately recognised the name. In the little time she has been with the minister, she knew these were the type of men he allowed to break his golden rule.
“Wow, I didn’t know it was you, Mr. Bauti,” she gushed, looking at him the way a teenage girl looks at her crush. “My apologies, I’ll let the minister know you’d like to see him, Mr Bauti,” she said in a voice laden with respect and vanished with considerable haste into the minister’s office.
There were heavy footsteps from the office of the minister. The door opened and the secretary came out followed by the minister. The minister was as big an old Bedford truck and had to turn on his side to get through the door. A clean-shaven ball shaped head, with small deep-set eyes, sat on his wide shoulders. His barrel of a body was encased in an oversized stripped suit, out of which only the fingers which looked like sausages protruded from the long sleeves. Although the rooms were airconditioned, he was sweating. The movement from his desk to the door had already made him breathless.
“Mr Bauti, welcome,” the minister said affectionately as if they were old friends. “Come on in.”
“Thank you, honourable minister,” Bauti said following the minister into his office.
The office was huge. Like the minister, everything in the office was gigantic: a colossal mahogany desk, mammoth chairs and a gargantuan portrait of the president. There was a round conference table in one corner of the room. The minister waved Bauti into one of the chairs around the table. Putting the briefcase down, Bauti unbuttoned his jacket and gracefully took the seat as the minister squeezed his bulk into another chair.
After opening pleasantries, Bauti said. “Let me not take too much of your time, honourable minister. I need your help.”
“As a public servant, I’m at the service of the people,” the minister said equivocally.
Bauti lowered his voice. “I want to bid for the upcoming major road project, and I’d appreciate it very much if you could help me.”
The minister looked at the businessman before him. He was one of the richest men in the country. Although he had never dealt with him before, word went around that he was very discreet and made it worthwhile for people who assisted him. He was a politician and knew the perks that came with assisting businessmen.
“I’d like to assist but I’m not involved in the process,” he said warily at length. “My PS handles that.”
“I know,” Bauti said. “All you’d have to do is put in a word for me to him,” he paused, picked the briefcase from the floor and placed it on the table.
The minister’s tiny eyes stared greedily at the briefcase. He knew there was more he would have to do. But all the same he asked rhetorically, “Just that?”
“Just that,” the businessman said opening the briefcase. Inside were two envelopes. He took out the larger of the two envelopes and emptied its contents on the desk. It was bundles of money but not in local currency. The cash was in US dollars.
Bauti scooped the money and put it back in the envelope. He closed the briefcase and put it back on the floor.
“I’ve faith in you, honourable minister,” he said sliding the envelope of money towards the minister. “I’ve heard of the great charity work that you’re doing in your constituency.” The minister was also a Member of Parliament. “That should go a long way in assisting in that noble work.”
For a fat man, the minister moved with surprising speed. His hand shot like the tongue of a chameleon grabbing a fly and swept the envelope off the table. With the same speed, he was on his feet and the envelope disappeared in the top drawer of his big desk. He dropped the key in his pocket.
Before the minister could return to his seat, Bauti was on his feet and saying goodbye. “And if you make things work, I’ll make sure you get a much better chunk of the investment,” Bauti paused and smiled brightly at the minister. “As the English say, scratch my back, I scratch yours. I call it my operating rule of life.”
The minister’s greed was completely whetted. He knew that in politics, your position or tenure in office was not guaranteed. Today you could be an honourable minister and tomorrow a common person. Therefore, it was crucial to make hay while the sun shone. In any case, even if he survived the five years in the post, he needed to accumulate enough money to be used when campaign period came. He had realised that it was impossible to save the money he got as a minister because his constituents were too demanding. He had to pay for their school fees, coffins and even for tombstones. If you failed to do this, they would chalk that against you and come election time, they would not vote for you. So, making money on the sly was not an option but a necessity. In these modern times, a politician without money was doomed politician.
“My friend,” he said slapping Bauti on the shoulder, “I’m sure we’ll do a lot of business together.”
Bauti knew that the fish had now completely bitten the hook. The minister happily saw him out of the office.
He waited until the minister was back in his office and then turned to the secretary. “Thanks for your assistance,” he flattered her. “Without your assistance I’d have not been able to see the honourable minister.”
The secretary looked pleased. “The pleasure is mine, sir.”
Bauti made it his business to do background research on everyone he was about to deal with. He knew the secretary was a divorced single mother whose salary was barely enough to keep body and soul together. He dipped in his pocket and fished out a thick ward of money.
“Buy something for your little boy,” he said throwing the bundle of money at the secretary’s desk.
She looked at the thick bundle of money. Already in her mind she was spending it buying clothes and paying school fees for her son. But she also noted that it would be enough to buy herself some clothes and pay her rent as well.
“Thank you, sir,” she said earnestly. “You don’t know what you’ve done. May God bless you.”
Bauti left. Glancing over his shoulder, there was the secretary with her face and hands raised in thanksgiving for the financial miracle. People, Bauti mumbled under his breath.
From the minister’s office, Bauti went straight to the office of the Principal Secretary which was located in the adjacent wing. There he had no problems because he had already booked an appointment. Although he did not know the top government official personally, his background check had revealed that they came from the same district. With tribalism taking a prominent role in the country, coming from the same area was a potent trump card.
Wearing an an old-fashioned loose fitting double breasted green suit which showed considerable use, the Principal Secretary was the image of the perfect old school civil servant. His wire framed glasses sat at a rakish angle on the bridge of his nose. The shoes he wore showed that they had seen the services of a cobbler several times.
For some time, they talked about issues pertaining to their home district, trivia like how dusty it was, the popular dances in the district and so on. But the seasoned civil servant knew businessmen like Bauti did not visit him for social calls.
“So how can I help you, akumudzi?” he cut by the by-play while adjusting his eyeglasses which kept sliding off his nose.
Bauti noted with satisfaction the use of the word ‘akumudzi’ meaning homeboy. The Principal Secretary had come round to his way of thinking much faster than he had thought. But again, he had done his background check well. The man was the sole bread winner in a large extended family. He was up to his neck in loans from the bank including loan sharks. He was experienced enough to know that Bauti’s visit would relieve him of his financial woes.
“Akumudzi,” Bauti responded in a smooth voice. “I desperately need your help.”
There it was, thought the Principal Secretary. He had correctly guessed that Bauti was not there on a social call. What could such a rich man want from a humble civil servant like him?
“There’s this upcoming road construction contract. I would like you to assist me get it.”
The top civil servant was silent. He had heard that the businessman handsomely rewarded people who assisted him get contracts. He thought of the loans he had, his unfinished house, unpaid college fees…This could be a great opportunity.
“Akumudzi, I’d love to assist but the Procurement Manager is the one who controls the process,” the Principal Secretary said carefully.
“I’m aware of that,” Bauti said “All I need from you is put in a word for me.”
The Principal Secretary hungrily grabbed at the idea. “I can do that, but you know how Procurement Managers work. They may put spanners in the works in favour of their own contractors.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Bauti assured him. “All you’ve to do is put in the word. Leave the rest to me.”
Gazing at the patterns of the carpet, the Principal Secretary thought that this was something he could easily do. In fact, he had done it before. It had earned him some money. But with his enormous family responsibilities it had not been enough. But he had heard of Bauti. The man dealt in huge figures. He could be the answer to his problems if he played the game right.
“I’ll do my part, akumudzi,” he said confidently. “Let’s help each other.”
Bauti rose to his feet. He knew he had the government official on the dotted line. “Thanks, for your time, akumudzi. As you’ve said, let’s help each other,” he said opening the briefcase and pulled out a khaki envelope which he put on the table. “Buy something for my in-law and if you need anything, you’ve got my number.”
The Principal Secretary swept the envelope off the table and locked it in his drawer. When he was seeing Bauti out of the office, he was grinning like a cat that has caught a fat mouse.
Bauti found his chauffer waiting for him at the entrance, the rear door already open. He stepped in and the driver closed the door and hurried back to his seat. The time was now getting close to noon. Bauti drove to the hotel where he had booked lunch with the Procurement Manager.
He found the Procurement Manager waiting for him. Of stunted growth, the man was a skeleton draped in a cheap suit. Bauti knew him to be a very greedy man and wondered what he did with his money.
The conversation between the two men was very direct. The Procurement Manager was a veteran at taking bribes so there was no need to go around the matter. He demanded 10% which was the ruling kickback percentage among procurement fraternity, so Bauti had no problem with that.
“You can be assured that you’ll get this contract, Mr Bauti,” the Procurement Manager said.
Of course, Bauti knew the contract was as good as already awarded to him because as they talked, both the minister and the Principal Secretary were counting the money he had given them in their respective offices. And when both men had finished counting the money, their thoughts were on what they should do to ensure that Bauti got the contract come rain or shine.
End of Part One