After a hard day’s work in the ward, followed by night duty later, we postgraduate interns became a bit blasé after midnight – especially after attending an emergency at 1 am. Once a few of us colleagues of different departments found ourselves in the mess in the early hours of a new day, sitting and sipping some tea or coffee. And for once we talked about a non-professional topic: corruption.
Somehow or other a few of us started to spin a yarn along the following lines.
Mr x, the technician
Mr X being a civil servant, a top technician of a department has become an experienced administrator after some three decades in the public sector. And been a witness to the sufferings of his colleagues in other departments who had been trapped by their boss into signing policy files concerning the work linked to their respective departments.
As such if their boss asks them verbally to sign a sensitive document concerning some suspicious departmental job, the options open to them are: they either say no to the boss and expose themselves to reprimand and neglect, to being transferred to less interesting departments – and to be ignored when the time comes to be promoted; or they could put their foot down and point out the irregularity of the whole boss’s demand – and decide to resign their job. The last option could prove hard if the officer, sole bread winner, has taken a lot of commitments for his children and family; so finally, in spite of himself, Mr X would oblige the boss.
He is trapped – on one the one hand he has the unusual, highly irregular request of his superior and on the other he has the welfare of his family to consider.
So poor Mr X has to yield to the insistence of his boss by signing the highly irregular documents loaded with future risks and social ostracism.
Some of us doctors remembered similar episodes associated with a public transaction – like the highway constructed some years ago, using 4.5 centimetre of tar resurfacing material instead of the 5 cm. When the scandal came to light, we learnt in the newspapers about the technicians who had to bear the blame for this sub-standard job, while their then boss coolly said that he knew nothing about that affair and ultimately walked away scot-free.
Mr x’s reaction
Mr X has thought about all this and lost some sleep over these irregularities and the risk to his job. And now he has thought of a strategy to limit the collateral damage that could befall him in the future.
The plan is: every time his boss requests him orally for some highly irregular procedure – to which he can’t refuse, he will when he reaches home go to his private room behind locked doors, put in black and white, all that the boss has privately requested him to do in his meaningful undertone voice. Mr X would note all details of the nuanced monologue made by his superior. He would even note any incident that might have occurred in the office; any unusual happenings; any visitor or other persons who visited his office or present on that particular day; he would also note the dresses or ties worn by the boss. The following day, after putting his written experience in an envelope, he would, on his way to work, have that letter [No. A] dully registered and posted to himself on his home address. And he would keep the official postal receipt safely. On receiving that registered letter at home, a day or two later, he would paste his postal receipt on and seal that envelope firmly and keep it in his home locker.
Mr X is no fool. He would keep a record book where he would tabulate letter A and would note down briefly the gist of that letter.
Down the decades he might land up with many of such letters; labelled A, B, C, D… all registered in his name and well kept in a highly secret place in his record book.
When will Mr X use those compromising letters? Never. After all, they would be highly incriminating evidence against himself. Except if a scandal should break out later where his name is deeply involved, and been accused of having given the green light for a certain murky, corrupted project.
The plot thickens
Of course, Mr X does not want to be the only one responsible for that embezzlement; but he has no choice.
And as the law and anti-corruption institutions start investigating things seriously, Mr X would naturally be at the centre of the turmoil.
Yet he would sit tight as long as bearable and see how far he would be accused of being the main culprit. He knows that it was his boss who would have played a major role and even been the main instigator of that scandal.
So finally, Mr X would be the main accused in the box. Would he be the only one to go behind bars, the only one in the boat? Or would he pull some others along with him to the gallows – by bringing out the relevant sealed letter A, B, C or D – to show how he had been given oral instructions on such and such date, at such and such time and at such and such place by his boss?
The question could arise whether that constitutes a violation of the Official Secret Acts or not; by that time Mr X is in deep soup, so he couldn’t care less. And whether the main investigator or judge in court would agree to the submission of letters A, B, C or D as evidence to show that he is not the only one to be involved in the scandal. Of course, that would be putting the noose round his own neck, but would he succeed to instil some doubts in the mind of the investigator or judge? Rather than falling alone he might have the morbid satisfaction of dragging the corrupted boss down with him into the abyss of frustrations.
Could there be such a clever Mister X?
Sadly at 2 am one of the colleagues did play a spoilsport. He managed to upset our apple cart by saying: What if the prosecutor were to counterattack and insists that Mr X is a super cunning technician or secretary who had wilfully signed all the papers without any prompting from the innocent boss and made a good fortune in the process? And that he is using the registered letters strategy to ensnare the innocent boss in his Machiavellian misdeeds and throw doubts in the mind of the judge?
* Published in print edition on 7 August 2020
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