Island of phantasmagoria
You don’t necessarily have to be hit by high fever to be transported, as if in a trance, to the island of phantasmagoria where all the unimaginable happenings take the centre stage of your life.
Like in a horror film, this island is a land of all negative possibilities where white is black and black is white, depending on one’s fancy and a momentary caprice that is usually fuelled by the filthy lucre. One is here referring to the kind of money that is always available in this island to be unconscionably deployed for evil and sinister subversion of truth and the good health of the society.
And this, for sure, is not about Alice in Wonderland. Alice, as lovers of English literature would recall, is the fictional young girl who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures. She has nothing to do with this modern day land of the abracadabra where the uninitiated, like some of us, are gratuitously treated to a theatrical show of shame in the name of fair play and decent engagement.
In this island of deceit, egregious duplicity and high end hypocrisy, a publicly quoted company, that prides itself with heavenly ordained integrity, honesty, probity and exemplary good conduct with high premium on service to customers, has, for the better part of one year, been openly complaining about its chief executive officer, the imperial helmsman at the control. His sins, it was said, were legendary. He was not providing service. The customer is king, according to the commercial ethos made popular by responsible companies always with an eye of profit. But not in the island of the poor and the deprived. In this land of negative possibilities, the customer has no voice, has got no soul; he’s drained of humanity and left at the mercy of the pangs of hunger because the malevolent minions in charge of affairs have decreed it so. In three years, going to four, no profit had been declared, no dividends paid. Shareholders or even stakeholders no longer had any stake to hold. It was no longer at ease. Obviously, something was bound to give.
A new chairman, with socialist inclinations, who, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be the veritable man of the people, was appointed for the board. And from day one on his hot seat, he began to bare his fangs. This no-nonsense chairman let it be known publicly that any non-performing CEO did not deserve a renewed tenure of office.
And who can be more non-performing than a CEO who was unwilling to pay dividends, treating customers and company workers with levity and audacious arrogance. This particular CEO, according to legends, has upheld all the company rules and regulations more in the breach than in observance. But nobody, either out of fear or the time-honoured deference to authority, dared to challenge the lord of the manor, the one who has proclaimed himself the landlord.
The poor, pitiable and deprived members of the community are reduced to only whispers and groans from deep down the soul. Some of the people, for fear of death, summoned the courage of the severely deprived and committed suicide. But those who choose to hang on to life kept hope alive.
A board meeting was pending. Change was in the air. One day the board advertised in the public media calling on those interested in the CEO’s job to come forward and apply, promising the prospective applicants level playing field in line with the company’s famous tradition of fairness, equity and justice. This time the company insisted that only the best was good enough for the job. There would be no mago mago and no wururu. Don’t forget that the ruler of the entire kingdom had proclaimed, without making it justiciable, that nobody, repeat, nobody would be allowed to buy his way into public or even private office.
In the new era of integrity, everything would be done in the open with scrupulous transparency. No lobbying. No inducement. No bribery, no corruption. In fact, under the prevailing atmosphere, corruption in any guise, shape or form will be visited by maximum punishment, short of death by firing squad.
So in this island of the phantasmagoria, the uninitiated took the new leader’s vow for purity and straight dealing and swallowed its hook, line and sinker. They bought their application forms with pretty sums of money. To say their mood was jubilant was to draw it mildly. Their exuberance was overflowing and their confidence was palpable. But wait for it.
The chairman of the board had empanelled a committee to examine the applicants to ascertain their suitability for the final interview. First hurdle was buried in the taciturnity of the officials. Suddenly they became incommunicado. Venue of the interview, such a minor routine matter, was kept away from the applicants until the eleventh hour. And when they decided to break their silence, they did it in a lordly manner. The venue of the interview was shifted.
The interview preceding the final selection was marred by deliberate evasiveness, changing the goal post in the middle of the match. Each applicant was put through the grill. Which, I am willing to admit, was okay except that the panellists, instead of ascertaining the suitability of the applicants, took it upon themselves to lobby them to support the sitting CEO who was being publicly pilloried for non-performance, insensitivity and failure to pay dividends as and when due.
Some of the questions went like this. If this company has people like you, why didn’t you rally round this CEO to do better than he is doing? The answer that the CEO was unavailable for advice fell on their deaf ears. Their next questions: Who filled your application forms? And why did you sign without writing your full name as you wrote it in another part of the form?
Applicant: Let me write it.
Chairman: It is too late. You cannot write your name here.
Chairman: No but, this is not a law court. You should have written your name properly before coming here.
Another applicant who failed to attach a photocopy of his birth certificate, said he was not allowed to show them the original copy which he had with him in the hall of inquisition. It was also too late.
The real abracadabra was on the D-Day. Presided over by some eminent personalities, chosen for the job because of their eminence, what took place under their watch was a shameful display of illegality far below the standard the company was famous for. Instead of the company’s trademark of equity, fairness and unalloyed integrity, desperation for the continuity of the abnormal blinded everybody including these pre-eminent personalities to the ghastly horror at noon.
The people of the land could only watch and wail while this open day robbery was taking place. The truth is that they had seen so much. Nothing shocks them anymore. These people have come to accept the reality of the situation. And that painful reality is that the three cardinal principles of Integrity, Probity and Accountability have morphed into mere platitudes that can be easily swept away when big money comes into the social, political and the economic equation of the community.
The song has changed. So has the rhythm. I recommend therefore that the official policy should now be: see no evil, hear no evil. Let us all rise, therefore, and say adieu to integrity and welcome aboard institutionalised corruption as the new derivative principles of state policy.
Need I say more? Except to add that I am back and to thank you, faithful readers, for tolerating my absence.