I walked through the massive glass doors of the Ministry of Finance building in Lusaka, out into the bright afternoon sun. I continued to walk slowly along the concrete drive way in between the spacious parking lots on both sides where most of the slots were occupied, into the tarmac road where a few taxi cabs waited for prospective fares. Soon, I would be traveling in one of those, to the intercity bus terminal where with luck I may be able to catch a late bus to the Copper-belt.
My heart was heavy. All my efforts of the past three months and the many journeys I had made to the Finance Ministry were in vain. During my previous visit, I was assured by Mr. Ndabala, one of the senior clerical officers, that the papers were in order and my name and my wife's name were already posted in the list of people who would be receiving their terminal benefits that month. However, it appeared that something went wrong and our names were struck off the list. Instead, two new names were added from the waiting list. We were pushed back to the next allocation of foreign exchange which would come only after three or four months. We would not be able to stay back in the country until then and the money would go invariably into the pipeline. In that case it would take a very long time, perhaps a couple of years or more, to reach me and all our future plans would go astray. This realization made me very sad. Even though I talked to Mr. M'hango, the Senior Accountant to expedite the matter, he said he could not do anything about it.
I was just about to board a cab when a thought flashed through my mind- Why should not I go and see the Permanent Secretary who was the over-all boss of the Finance Ministry and tell him of my predicament. Perhaps he would do something about it. Anyway, I had nothing to lose.
But to see the P.S was not that easy. I could not just go to his fifth floor office, knock and enter. I had to go through the various official channels before I could get an appointment to see him. It may take several days before he would accede to my request to grant me a meeting with him.
It was then that I thought of Mr. M.R.B. Nair, the Chief Auditor to the Finance Ministry of whom I had heard sometime back from Mr. Krishnan, one of my friends on the Copper-belt. Mr. Nair was a British citizen of Indian origin, whose native place was Trivandrum in the State of Kerala which happened to be my native place too. Even though, we had never met before.
I retraced my steps with new vigor. In the foyer I met a well-dressed lady whom I took for a Ministry official and asked her if she could direct me to Mr. M.R.B. Nair's office. She took me up all the way in the elevator to the fourth floor and along a long corridor to the door marked with golden letters: M.R.B. Nair, Chief Auditor. She did not even wait for my thanks. I knocked at the door, and was bidden to enter.
Mr. Nair was alone in his spacious office except for his Zambian secretary. He was very cordial to me and listened patiently to my narration. He told me that the Permanent Secretary was the only person who could do something about my problem. As he was out of the country, Mr.Chipuma, the Deputy Permanent Secretary was in charge. Mr. Nair said he would introduce me to him, in case he was available. He asked his secretary to phone the office of the D.P.S and request for an urgent appointment. The D.P.S was in his office and he would see Mr. Nair without any delay. We went up the single flight of steps and reached the office of the D.P.S. We were admitted immediately and directed to the inner office by the lady in the outer office.
I saw a very well-groomed Zambian gentleman with slightly graying hairs at the temples sitting behind a large glass-topped desk. He greeted Mr. Nair with a broad smile and nodded briefly to me. Mr. Nair introduced me to him and added that I had a problem that needed to be sorted out by Mr. Chipuma. He then left the two of us together and departed.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary listened patiently to what I had to say. He did not interrupt me or showed any signs of impatience. When I finished my narration, he talked to his secretary on the intercom and asked her to call Mr. Ndabala and Mr. M'hango to his office straightaway, and tell them to bring Mr. G. John's file along with them.
The two gentlemen arrived within ten minutes, with a look of apprehension in their eyes. As soon as they saw me sitting comfortably in Mr. Chipuma's office, their face darkened and their apprehension increased. Mr. Chipuma questioned them in such a manner that they had to admit their mistake. He ordered them to rectify the matter within three days' time. They said it would be impossible as the next allocation of Forex (foreign exchange) would come only after a minimum period of three months. At this reply Mr. Chipuma got very annoyed and asked them whether they expected a retired expatriate officer who had neither any job nor any house (the government quarters should be surrendered to the Works Department within a month or so after the last day of duty) to stay in the country for such a long time in order to get what was rightfully due to him from the Zambian government.
They had no reply. Finally Mr. M'hango, the Senior Accountant said there was one solution only. That was to apply for a special allocation of Forex from the Treasury. This procedure was adopted in extreme cases of emergency only and the Permanent Secretary had to make a special requisition for the same. Mr. Chipuma told them to prepare the requisition forthwith and get his signature. He gave them one week's time during which they should follow up the matter.
It was with clockwork precision that the matter was followed up by Mr. Mhango and Mr. Ndabala and thanks to the kindness of Mr. M.R.B. Nair and Mr. Chipuma, I received the payment vouchers two days before our final departure from Zambia. There remained just one day within which we had to get the Zambian Kwacha converted to foreign currency at the Zambia National Commercial Bank, Lusaka, but that was another story.