by PHIL FITZPATRICK
We offer a preview of Phil Fitzpatrick’s forthcoming Inspector Metau novel, ‘The Case of the Good Politician’, available soon as a free New Year’s present on PNG Attitude. “Hopefully it will be a reminder to people to consider their vote more carefully in 2017,” says Phil. Here's an extract from Chapter 8….
WHEN the Ex-Member had won his seat in the previous term of parliament he thought all his Christmases had come at once. He had mortgaged everything he owned on the outcome and had pulled in favours and clan obligations where he could and taken out a big loan from his new friend, Mr Han.
If he had lost he didn’t know what he would do. He would be penniless and the shame would be unbearable. But that was all behind him. He had paid out all of his accumulated dinau and come to an amicable agreement with Mr Han to repay him in unspecified kind rather than money.
While in parliament he had watched his fellow members closely so he could learn how they had turned their seats into money making machines. He learned the intricacies of inflating government tenders and passing work on to family and wantok owned businesses and he learned how to set up bogus landowner companies to exploit the resources in his electorate for his own benefit.
But most of all he learned how to solicit bribes and how to launder the money through financial mazes that defied detection.
Along the way he also developed a taste for good food and alcohol, preferably in excess, snappy clothes, expensive cars, fast women and many more indulgences that he could once only dream about.
He was under no illusions about why he was in parliament. It was for his own benefit and to hell with the greedy voters he had paid to get him there and were expecting a cut of the proceeds. And to hell with the gullible voters who had believed his stories about wanting to help them and the electorate. They were just dreaming, the silly buggers.
After a while he had come to take his good luck for granted. Then he convinced himself that it wasn’t just luck that had got him where he wanted to be, it was his superior brain power and his skills as a politician that had done the trick. When he acknowledged that he also convinced himself that he could do it again at the next election.
Most Papua New Guinean politicians only lasted one term before they were thrown out of parliament but he was smarter than that. The disdain that he felt for the people who had originally voted him into office made him think he could trick them into electing him again.
A little money here and there, a few pallets of beer and lamb flaps here and there and the dumb buggers would elect him again. It was a simple formula and he knew it would work.
And yet it didn’t turn out that way. For a start his electorate was one of the poorest in Papua New Guinea. The district sat at the nether end of the province, not quite in the highlands and not quite on the coast. Apart from the never ending forests there were few resources to exploit.
There were no oil and gas fields, no gold and copper mines, very little arable land and nothing whatsoever that would induce tourists to pay a visit.
In short, the opportunities to exploit his electorate the way his fellow parliamentarians did were severely limited. His early venture to set up a supermarket and charge the local people exorbitant prices had faltered from the beginning and had only survived because Mr Han had bought him out and installed a ghost manager. While he played games on his laptop in his poky little office she made sure the store ran well and made a profit from her expansive suite at the back of the building.
But there had been a light on the horizon. Mr Han had pointed it out to him. It was obvious, he told the Ex-Member. It was all around them just waiting to be turned into hard, exportable cash. It was the forest. Pull the right strings, pay the right bribes and, bingo, a special agriculture business lease was a carte blanche to cut down every tree in sight.
All that was needed was to convince enough landowners to sign on the dotted line. Promise them enduring fortunes from the oil palm and rice fields that would never be planted and Bob’s your uncle, money for nothing. The Ex-Member had beamed at the simplicity of it. And then along came Espe Lamplap.
At that moment the subject of the Ex-Member’s anguish was standing on the main Port Moresby wharf watching a brand new Komatsu GD555-5 grader being driven up a nearby launching ramp onto the deck of the coastal landing craft MV Eliakos Spirit.
Waiting its turn was a Kubota M series tractor, with a front end loader attached, towing a steel trailer. Watching alongside him were Simik, Hari, Constable Manua and the two reserve police ladies. Constable Eripa was walking across the wharf towards them.
“He’s gone,” a puffing Eripa said.
“What do you mean he’s gone?” a distracted Hari replied.
“He went to the airport and got on a plane.”
“A plane? Where to?”
Eripa looked nonplussed.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I didn’t check.”
The two reserve police ladies standing with Espe and Simik looked like they were about to murder Eripa and throw his body in the harbour. Hari held up his arm and they stopped advancing on the hapless constable.
“I think we can guess where he’s going and who he wants to see,” he said. “We just need to get someone up there to follow him.”
“Not him!’ one of the ladies said pointedly staring at Eripa.
“Look, it could have happened to any of us,” Hari said. “It’s just that it would have been nice to know where he’s going.”
“I’ll check with the airlines,” Constable Manua said. “It shouldn’t be hard to confirm where he’s gone.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hari replied. “Where else would he go? The trick now is to keep track of him, we don’t have anyone up there who can do that at the moment.”
Hari walked away from the others and beckoned Constable Manua to follow.
“It’s partially my fault, I agreed with the ladies to institute a roster system, it’s unfortunate that Eripa was on duty when it happened.”
“The suspect is in breach of his bail conditions sir, we could get the local police to arrest him.”
“What purpose would that serve Constable?”
Constable Manua looked slightly embarrassed and then he smiled.
“I know someone who could keep an eye on him until we get there,” he said.
“Who’s that Constable?”
The Honourable Member’s daughter sir.”
“Yes sir, if I ask her she’ll do it.”
“I see,” Hari said looking at the constable carefully.
“I can go back up there sir, I can be on a plane tomorrow.”
“You don’t think it might be dangerous for her Constable?”
“No sir. She drives around all day talking to people, she’s got nothing else to do really. Her friends will help her. The ladies at the guesthouse will help her too.”
Hari thought for a moment and then nodded.
“Okay Constable, get on to her and then get yourself a ticket on the next flight.”
“Right away sir,” the constable said taking out his mobile phone.
Hari watched him for a moment longer and then walked back to the others on the edge of the wharf. The two police reserve ladies looked at him in anticipation. Eripa fidgeted nervously.
“All fixed,” Hari said and joined Espe and Simik.
“It’s a fine looking piece of machinery,” he said. The crew of the MV Eliakos Spirit were lashing down the grader between two large shipping containers.
“The district administrator has found a driver with the right ticket and will send him down to the river port to meet it,” Simik said. “He’ll drive it up to the town. One of those containers has got a trailer filled with spare parts and fuel in it. He’ll tow that behind him.”
“It’s a good thing you are doing,” Hari said to Espe who smiled appreciatively.
“We can fix the road now,” he replied.
“You should go up there and do a formal handover, it wouldn’t hurt your reputation, that’s what all the politicians do.”
Espe thought about the suggestion for a moment and then said, “Perhaps not, everyone will know where it has come from anyway, if I make a big deal out of it they might think I’m just boasting.”
Hari smiled and put his hand on Espe’s shoulder.
“You’re going to make a good member,” he said. “What do you think Simik?”
“I think you’re right,” Simik replied with a grin.
Source: PNG Attitude - Keith Jackson and Friends (http://www.asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/)