Silent Tears

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: JDT Desktop Publishing
A true story based on the author’s experience while working at the Provincial Health Office in Daru, Western Province, Papua New Guinea from 2013-2014.

Submitted: August 15, 2016

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Submitted: August 15, 2016

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I arrived for work early as usual. Being a senior officer had its responsibilities. The Provincial Health Office for Western province was located beside the Crow’s Nest Hotel. It was a three bedroom house that belonged to the Wyborn family who were also the owners of the hotel. The Fly River Provincial Government didn’t have enough money to build an office complex in Daru to house all the government agencies so we rented residential properties and worked from there.

Daru is a difficult place to live and work in and was called the ‘Wild West’ by the expatriate advisors and consultants that worked there. Basic services such as telephone and television services were non-existent and the town’s water supply was unreliable. It had serious law and order issues and there was wide-spread poverty in the small township with so many squatter settlements and beggars around. A lot of the luxuries that one enjoys in other towns and cities in Papua New Guinea such as Cadbury chocolates, lamingtons, meat pies and taxis or bus services were not available in Daru. There wasn’t any secondhand shops too. The status of health services in Western province was among the lowest in the country and my job was to help improve it.

I was contracted by the Health and HIV Implementation Service Provider, an Australian Aid program managed by JTAI Limited and was transferred from Milne Bay province to Western province in 2013. As the Senior Finance and Budget Officer, I managed all the funds; recurrent, internal revenue, donor funds and special grants at the Provincial Health Office. However, accommodation was a big problem in Daru. I was at the point of giving up and returning home when the Director for Health Services, Alice Bossmeri allowed me to move into the AusAid duplex. She lived on one side and the other side was vacant. Anyway, I managed to settle in comfortably and blended in with the simple, small town lifestyle.

I had a heart for the people and wanted to help improve governance and financial accountability so that health services were delivered and felt at the health centre and rural community level. I wanted to change the world for better.

It was still 8 am and the Project Officer, Ian Gera wasn’t in the office yet. I had assigned him to furnish me with all the acquittals for the irregular items that appeared on the audit report. I took out my phone and texted him to make sure he would come to work. He replied that he was on his way. Kevin, the office driver walked in and came over to sit on the chair near my table.

“Boss, you have an extra cigarette to spare?” he asked politely.

“Here,” I said and gave him a cigarette. “But when you’re going to town, come see me so I can give your some money to buy our buai and smoke for the day.”

“No worries boss,” he said and walked out of my office to smoke.

I carefully checked through the arch-lever folders that contained all the acquittals behind my table. The Health Sector Improvement Program trust account for Western province was shut down by the National Department of Health in 2012 after audits revealed gross mismanagement and non-compliance of the Public Finance and Management Act. When I first started work at the office, I immediately sorted out the outstanding acquittals and re-established the Provincial Health Finance Committee to provide oversight and approve funding for the implementation of various health programs. When the audits were done in April, 2013, they were impressed with the drastic improvement in the management of the trust account and reopened it with the first tranche given May that year. Since then, I made sure that all payments were acquitted and field reports were provided.

After an hour or so examining all the acquittals, I turned back to my laptop to read through the electronic copy of the last audit report again.

“At least, we passed the twenty percent threshold required for the release of the next tranche,” I thought to myself.

I was good at my job and felt confident that most of the expenditures were acquitted.

“Jordan, can you sign these requisitions urgently?” Celestine, the Administration Officer said placing a folder on my table.

I looked through the requisitions making sure all the necessary documents were attached before signing the Finance Forms. Celestine picked up the folder to give it to the Director for her signature.

Phil Whiteman walked in, looking quite stressed. Phil Whiteman was my immediate supervisor and was the Provincial Health Advisor. Although an Australian, he had worked in the various parts of Papua New Guinea for over fifteen years and had vast experience in the health sector. Phil was in his sixties and a typical, arrogant Australian.

“Jordan, can you email me the financial reports for the trust account today so I can put it in my weekly report to the office in Port Moresby?” Phil requested.

“Sure, I’ll work on it and email it over probably after lunch,” I replied.

“Thanks. Are we safe for the next audits?” He asked.

“We should be okay. But I’ll work on the outstanding issues with Ian to try reduce the threshold to less than 10 percent,” I said confidently.

“Perfect!” Phil sounded pleased.

After a brief chat about work, he left to have a chat with the Director in her office before heading home. Phil worked out of his house but called into the office every now and then for meetings or when he needed some information. I got back to my laptop to finalize the financial reports that Phil asked for. I entered all the transactions for the month into the cashbook and quickly did the bank reconciliation. I was working on the management report when two policemen entered the office.

“Morning. You here for something?” I asked

“Yes. We are here to take you,” one of them said.

He’s name was Brian. Daru was a small place so we knew each other.

“Oh? What’s this regarding?” I was alarmed

“It’s about a post you put on Facebook last night. The complainant is at the police station so we’re here to take you. Just for you to some explanation about the post,”  Brian explained

“Ok, sure,” I said and logged off my laptop before following them to the police vehicle that was parked outside.

The previous night, I had posted in the Fly River group about a contract that was awarded to a local fuel company, Daru Fuels under the pretext of the Daru Beautification Project. From observation, only grass cutting activities were done yet there was some inside information that several millions of kina was paid. Things looked fishy and I knew it was just a deception to divert monies from the public purse.

Francis Bala, the Managing Director of Daru Fuels looked furious when I arrived at the police station. He had brought several of his relatives for support. All their eyes were on me and I felt a little nervous.

“So you are Jordan?” Francis asked and looked at me angrily.

“Yes,” I answered nervously.

“Are these your words?” the Police Station Commander asked.

He handed me a print out of my post in the Fly River group. I looked at it and nodded.

“Who are you to poke your nose into our business?” Francis snapped. “Are you the authority? Who are you?”

“That post is an observation of what is actually going on in Daru and was for discussion purposes only,” I said defensively.

“That’s defamation to my company! I can charge you for that!” Francis started yelling at me.

The Police Station Commander told Francis to calm down. He read through the print out and turned to me.

“There’s proper ways to go about with this type of issue, but not post it on Facebook,” he advised.

I kept quiet and listened to the Police Station Commander talk about national security issues and the current rumors’ about the Governor for Western province and Seggy Bala diverting PSIP funds were not true. Seggy was Francis Bala’s brother.

“What you posted on Facebook is just a speculation,” he said.

“My apologizes for any inconvenience caused,” I murmured.

“I want you to post an apology to the Daru Fuel company in the Fly River group and delete your previous post!” Francis ordered. “And zip your mouth ok! This is not your province!”

“Okay,” I said in defeat.

An angry feeling built up inside me. The original information about the misappropriation was put out on the public domain by the former Provincial Administrator. Why should I apologize? Where public funds was concerned, everyone has a right to ask questions. If the speculations made on my post were not true, simply rebut the ‘untruths’ with the ‘truths’ as they know it and clear the air. The story about the Daru Beautification Project wasn’t a top secret. Everyone in Daru was talking about it. Yet the Police Station Commander had ordered me to stop discussing about it as if it was a top secret. And don’t we have the freedom of speech and expression in our constitution? They were just simply diverting attention.

“Fucking corrupt people. I hope justice is served!” I cursed quietly.

I stood there for a while to calm down before leaving the police station.

++++

Back in the office, I logged on to my laptop and tried to complete the report I was working on. The continuous buzzing of my mobile phone was annoying so I checked who the caller was. It was the HHISP office in Port Moresby.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Morning Jordan. I have a caller on the line for you,” the lady on the other end said.

“Hi Jordan, this is Richard Fitzgerald,” Richard said.

Richard Fitzgerald was the Human Resource Manager. An Australian too, he was a short and small man in size.

“Hi Richard,” I sensed that something was wrong.

“We are suspending you from work. We will look into the facts and advise you of the outcome. In the meantime, you are required to leave the office,” he said.

I felt the blood drain from my face. I simply couldn’t believe it or take it in, nor grasp the implications of it.

“No, this wasn’t happening to me; it couldn’t be happening,” I thought to myself.

I knew it was Phil Whiteman who reported the matter to head office. Phil was like a spy sent to Western province. Sometimes, I wondered if the expatriate advisors were really qualified because most of the time, we locals did all the work. They would just compile our reports and were paid ten times more than us. A surge of anger built up inside me and I grinded my teeth in an effort to control it. Sweat formed on my forehead.

“Okay,” I said and hung up.

Why wasn’t I asked to give my side of the story before suspending me? This was so unfair. More anger boiled up inside me.

“Fuck shit!” I mumbled.

I was too stunned to take it in. So many thoughts swirled around in my mind. It took some time before the realization sank in. I walked out of the office and lit a cigarette, trying my best to calm down. Kevin joined me to have a cigarette.

“Bro, I’ll pack up my laptop and you drop me off at home,” I said to him.

“What? Something wrong?” he asked looking surprised.

“Just not feeling well today,” I lied.

++++

I slept in the next day. The sun was shining and a warm breeze blew through the open window when I woke up but I felt a mixture of emotions. I was still angry for been suspended without even a chance to explain myself and also regretted posting on Facebook. The hours dragged on but I couldn’t take my mind off the suspension. I feared the outcome wouldn’t be favorable. Phil Whiteman had some connection with the Daru Fuel company and I knew they would use their weight around to get rid of me. I pulled out my Blackberry phone and typed an email to Richard Fitzgerald to justify myself.

Good morning Richard.

The issue was sorted already and the complainant required my apology, which I did. I stated clearly in my email to Phil that it was a personal opinion and observation, which doesn't represent or concern Provincial Health or HHISP, outside of working hours using my personal phone and credits. I didn't breach anything in the ICT policy. Probably seen as 'offensive' post but it was resolved already. I apologize for any inconvenience caused. It won't happen again.

I await your decision and will be more than happy to move out of Daru. I'll need my demobilization (return airfares to Alotau and 200kg excess to airfreight my household items back to my hometown) and any entitlements in lieu of my termination.

Please note, I require a written letter of suspension and termination as stated in my contract.

And I wish to seek further clarification and legal advice on my employment contract and termination and any personal loss that ensues.

Thanks.”

I clicked on the send button and walked out to the kitchen. I poured myself a glass of Ballantine’s whiskey and went out onto the verandah to clear my thoughts. I looked down to the beach where the Frog Town squatter settlement was located, slowly sipping the whiskey. Birds were chirping from the mango tree and I could hear people at the settlement laughing. It was a beautiful day after all.

There was music coming from the next-door apartment and I leaned out a bit to see around the brick wall that divided the duplex. It was Alice Bossmeri’s son Gibson. He was the same age as me but unemployed.

Richard Fitzgerald called some minutes later and informed me that the issue had gone to the Brisbane office and that they were still investigating the matter. He also mentioned that it was serious so that I am aware and won’t be surprised by the ramifications.

I threw the glass of whiskey angrily to the flower gardens below.

“Fuck!” I swore in resentment.

++++

After lunch, Kevin dropped by the house with my e-ticket.

“Boss, Phil Whiteman gave me your ticket and said you should pack your stuff to travel out next week,” Kevin relayed.

“Oh? Okay. I’ll do that right away,” I mumbled.

For a moment, I couldn’t think clearly. I stared at Kevin expressionless. I didn’t know whether to be angry or cry. I felt a lump in my throat and swallowed hard to look calm. I knew what the ticket meant although not mentioned. I was terminated without any proper explanation or formal letter in writing. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

++++

I checked in an hour early at the Daru terminal and walked out to chew buai and have a cigarette while waiting for the Airlines PNG flight to arrive from Kiunga. I had only two bags and a hand luggage. All my cooking utensils, gardening tools, curtains, mattress, pillows and everything I bought for the three bedroom apartment were given away to my colleagues at the health office. I was going back home empty handed.

Kevin was with me at the airport. He was the first person I got to know when I arrived in Daru over a year ago and became a good brother and friend. I could see the sadness in his eyes.

“Here, have a cigarette and stop feeling sorry for me,” I tried to cheer him.

Colleagues from the office came to the airport to farewell me. I hugged all them and thanked them for everything. They drove back to the office but Kevin remained to see me off.

I thought to all the memorable moments I had. Daru became my home for over a year. It was usually boring over the weekends so I kept myself busy with my small garden in the backyard. I had planted peanuts, pumpkin, aibika, sugar cane, ginger, buai and even lemon grass. I loved the feeling of seeing the plants grow up healthy. I also bought a cute, chubby puppy from the Post Office Manager and called it Snoopy. It would sleep with me in the master bedroom. Snoopy had his budget in my salary. He had his own pillow, small mattress, towel and shampoo. I loved Snoopy and treated him like a human being.

The arrival of an Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft brought me back to reality. Passengers from Kiunga disembarked and several minutes later, passengers for Port Moresby were asked to board the aircraft.

“Ok, brother. We will see each other one fine day,” I almost cried when hugging Kevin.

“Take care brother,” Kevin’s eyes were red.

I took a deep breath, swung the hand luggage bag over my shoulder and followed the queue of passengers. It was then that I felt tears form in my eyes. I took one last look back at the terminal and saw Kevin waving among the crowd.

“Goodbye brother! Goodbye Daru!” I waved back before boarding the aircraft.

I triend to be strong but couldn't. My heart was shattered into a thousand pieces and I cried silently. I cried for Kevin and all my colleagues at the office. I cried for all the friends I had met. I cried for my apartment and garden. I cried for Snoopy. I cried for Daru and Western province. I cried for been unfairly terminated. I cried for the injustice done to me.

“God is not blind. He has seen all my pain and silent tears. I hope all those corrupt people are brought to justice one day!” I prayed quietly.

I was now unemployed and didn’t know what the future had in store for me. More tears rolled down my check.

 


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