Protocols of Corruption Part 2
By Lawrence Kadzitche
True to his conviction, John Bauti was awarded the contract. It was a massive multi-billion contract which involved construction of a major road through a rural area. Bauti’s tender had the correct bills of quantities, all kosher on paper.
But Bauti had no intention of honouring the contract. In fact, he never honoured agreements. And this is how he had quickly built-up his big empire. He would make a bid and make a killing by doing substandard work which ensured that his profits were bigger than the cost of the works themselves.
Bauti’s house, a mansion that was a show piece of luxury, was located on a sprawling plot in the city’s plush suburb. The compound’s gate was almost a hundred meters from the main house. Anyone driving through the golden gate could not miss the opulence the place exuded.
Gilishi was the senior supervising engineer for the road project. A short thin man, the only memorable thing about him was his head that was disproportionately large compared to his body. Looking at the house as he drove along the driveway, Gilishi thought the building could qualify as the seventh wonder of the world or even fight for the same rating as the hanging gardens of Babylon. It was painted white and was aptly given the Spanish name Casa Blanca; white house in English.
A uniformed guard rushed to his car as he came to a stop and opened the door for him. Gilishi spilled out and smoothened the creases of his second-hand suit which was a wasted effort as no amount of ironing could straighten the cheap material. He pinched his nose, savouring the scents of flowers that filled the air. Birds and butterflies played among the flowers in the lush gardens surrounding the house. The guard motioned him towards the main door where a servant in a white safari suit waited.
At the door, the servant bowed and waved him through the glass door which slid open automatically. Another servant led him from the reception into the sitting room. Gilishi had never been inside a palace, but he thought this was exactly how palaces looked like. A huge television set was mounted on the wall. There was a leather sofa set, armchairs and settees beautifully arranged in the big room. Enormous paintings hung on the walls. The windows were large and covered with curtains that matched the cream walls. There was a mixture of decorative glass and wooden stools.
“What would you like to drink, sir?” the servant asked.
Gilishi’s eyes fell on a bar full of expensive liquors in an adjacent room and fought down the impulse to order his favourite whisky. It wouldn’t do to show his weakness to the rich businessman.
“A coke, please,” he whispered.
As the servant disappeared, Bauti appeared. Being at home, Gilishi had expected to see Bauti in casual clothes. But the businessman was in a slim fit white suit and pointed black shoes.
“Welcome, my boy,” Bauti said, spreading out his arms in welcoming embrace.
Gilishi rose and the two men hugged. “Take a seat,” Bauti said waving him to a chair.
At the same time, the servant reappeared with a bottle of coke and a glass tumbler on a tray. “What? You’re taking a soft drink on a day like this?” Bauti asked with feigned disbelief. “Mmm…Johnny Walker, isn’t that your favourite poison?”
Gilishi nodded, surprised at how the businessman had guessed this. He would have been shocked if he realised that Bauti knew almost everything about him, including the embarrassing detail that his ambitious wife was driving him crazy with endless reminders that she needed her own car.
The speed with which the servant disappeared and reappeared was like the conjecture of a magician. He placed the bottle of whisky and a glass on a stool before Gilishi.
After some by-play, where Bauti mostly spoke and Gilishi agreed with a stupid smile, the businessman said, “My boy, I understand you’re the senior supervising engineer for the road project.”
Gilishi nodded, pouring himself another drink.
“Can you explain to me exactly what your role is in the Project?”
“My job is to carry out inspections on the work that you will be doing and if the job is done satisfactorily, sign your certificates for payments,” Gilishi said.
“No-one would have put it any better than that,” Bauti said clapping his hands. “In other words, I cannot be paid if you do not approve my payment certificates. Yes?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Gilishi said, hiding the self-importance he felt.
Bauti leaned forward so that his face was close to Gilishi’s. “I’ll be open with you, Gilishi. Sometimes, the work we do does not meet the required standards and therefore we need an inside man to assist us get paid even in such scenarios. Can I count on you to be that inside man?”
Gilishi took a deep breath. “This is mighty sudden…”
But this was a lie. He had already guessed that this was the reason why the businessman had invited him to his house.
Bauti smiled and winked. “If you agree, I’ll make it worth your while.”
The supervising engineer did not doubt that. He had heard that Bauti paid well for any services rendered on the side. He was silent for some time, pretending to be thinking when he had already accepted the proposal in his mind. May be this could be an opportunity to buy the car his wife was pestering him for.
“I can assist but I may have to take care of other guys whom I work with,” Gilishi said.
“Let that not bother you; my boys will take care of that. All I need from you is just your signature now and then when things are not done the right way,” Bauti paused and proffered his hand. “Deal?”
Gilishi greedily took the hand. “Deal.”
Bauti went out of the sitting room and momentarily appeared with a large khaki envelope. “There’s a little something for you here. You can buy something for the wife. And there’ll be more from where this came from.”
Gilishi took the bulging envelope. Bauti poured himself a drink. “Let’s toast to a great mutual working relationship!”
On the way home, Gilishi stopped at a secluded place to see what was in the envelope. When he counted the money, he found that it would be enough to buy his wife a good car and remain with a good sum for himself. He made the sign of the cross. Indeed, the Lord, was good!
But Gilishi was wrong. Bribes do not come from the Lord. They come right from the very fiery pits of hell. He was soon to find out that by agreeing to Bauti’s proposition, he had made a pact with the devil. And as wise men had said, the best way to deal with the devil was: never!
Bauti had said he would be required to sign certificates when now and then his company had done substandard work. However, Gilishi found out that what the businessman had meant was that he would do substandard work on the whole road and Gilishi would have to certify all of that.
At first, he tried to implore Bauti to improve the quality of the work, but the businessman’s response was to offer him more kickbacks. And every time he took the pay off, he would tell himself that it would be the last. But greed, like a bottomless pit, is never satisfied. So Gilishi continued receiving the money and signing the payment certificates until the entire road was completed. By the time the project was finishing, potholes had already started appearing on the road and the sides of the tarmac were crumbling.
People discussed about the poor quality of the road as a sign of corruption in the government. But nothing happened. Reporters came to ask Bauti about what happened, but the strange thing was that after meeting him, the story was always dropped. Even the most vocal social media influencers would quickly fall silent the moment they met Bauti. The businessman’s motto was: everyman has his price.
However, there was one reporter who seemed to defy Bauti’s price. Khuduli was an investigations reporter with one of the major local dailies. The man had refused Bauti’s offers indicating that he was determined to unearth the truth. As the reporter’s investigations climbed up the ladders towards the Minister of Public Infrastructure, people began to panic as names began to appear with allegations that they had taken bribes from Bauti. Even the Minister himself called Bauti to express his concerns.
Bauti assured him that the reporter would in the end have no case. But due to the Khuduli’s persistence, the matter could not be ignored anymore, and government was forced to send auditors to investigate the matter.
Guzalo, the chief auditor was an experienced man with less than five years to retirement. Everyone said he was a man who could not be bribed. He was in other words, an upright man. It was this man who was put in charge of the investigation. But Bauti knew that like Achilles, everyone has a weak spot. One has just to search carefully and, lo and behold, you find the weakness.
In the evening of the day he arrived in the town to start preparations for the investigation, Guzalo was sipping whisky at the bar of the hotel where he was putting in when a whiff of perfume arrested his attention. He turned his head. Every man has the type of woman that he fancies and standing behind him was the perfect image of a woman that he desired.
“Hi! Would you care for company?” the girl purred.
Whether it was because the girl fitted his bill or because he was drunk, one thing led to another and the two ended playing the horizontal tango in the girl’s room. When he had sobered up in the morning, he regretted what he had done. But what had been done, had been done and he could do nothing about it.
That very morning, while he was still nursing a hangover in his room, Bauti turned up without appointment. Something warned the experienced auditor that the corrupt businessman’s visit spelled trouble.
“I would like you to make sure that your investigation should find nothing wrong with the quality of the road,” Bauti said without opening preliminaries.
The chief auditor laughed. “You know how I work. I don’t take bribes.”
“Who’s talking about bribes?” Bauti countered.
A puzzled look touched Guzalo’s face. “I don’t understand…”
Bauti took out a small envelope from the pocket of his jacket and gave it to Guzalo. “What’s in this envelope is just a copy. If you help me, no one will ever know it ever existed. Like the work I have done, what has been done, has been done and cannot be changed,” Bauti said earnestly. “All I ask for is your favourable consideration when making your report-call it umuntu, my elder brother.”
The chief auditor and his team started their inspections. At first, all the team members were amazed at how poorly the road had been done. But Bauti’s carrot and stick worked perfectly. The photograph where Guzalo had been caught naked with the girl was like a knife pointed at his throat, forcing the auditor do Bauti’s bidding. It was no use to realise in hindsight that he had been set up. What mattered was that it could be used to destroy not only his career, but reputation and family as well. As for the other team members, Bauti had put them in his pocket by giving them hefty sums of money. So, for all of them, as if by magic, the road started to look well built. Even the potholes disappeared. The crumbled sides of the tarmac were no longer visible. All thanks to greed and fear. Consequently, the inspection found that there were no serious issues on the road apart form minor defects which Bauti happily agreed to work on.
The reporter was enraged. How could the auditors certify that the road was well constructed when everyone could see that it was not? He went back to the newspaper offices prepared to expose the scam even further. He was surprised to find a dismissal letter waiting for him.
“You’ve put the newspaper’s reputation in jeopardy due to your unfounded allegations,” the editor said. “Mr Bauti even wanted to sue us for defamation, and we had to plead with him not to do so.”
The reporter’s downfall started from there. No newspaper was willing to employ him. His friends avoided him; no one wanted to be associated with someone who had bucked the powerful businessman. His wife left him. Too late, he understood the true meaning of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. Heartbroken, his rotting corpse was found hanging in his crumbled shack. He had been dead for a week. A coroner’s examination revealed that he had committed suicide.