In Phestring the cabinet members all shuffled into the room, rubbing their eyes at this early morning start. These meetings were being held every day now. The Prime Minister sat silently at the head of the table and waited for everybody to become seated. Now was the time to talk about money.
‘I have some grave news,’ he said, leaving a pause after the sentence that dragged out as they all subconsciously leaned forward towards him. He let the silence continue until he judged they had suffered enough. ‘I have carried out some investigations into the state of our finances and I have come to the conclusion that we cannot afford our war with Barmia. We need to be conscious of our interest repayments to the Northern Kingdoms. You know we owe them a lot of money and we can’t afford to default on the payments.’
The Treasurer sighed and shook his head. Here we go.
‘Why hasn’t the Treasurer picked up on this?’ demanded Foreign Affairs, giving the Treasurer a nasty look, but the Prime Minister was ready for this.
‘I think that the Treasurer has been telling us about the perilous state of our finances for the last six months. He has his faults but sloppy reporting is not one of them.’
The Treasurer winced at this insult and compliment in the same sentence. The other Cabinet members shifted and fidgeted in their seats.
‘Who the hell reads the reports from Treasury?’ muttered Foreign Affairs. ‘They’re just full of figures and mind-bendingly difficult statistics. They’re the most uninteresting and tedious part of each agenda.’
The Prime Minister ignored him and continued on in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘I’m sure that you all read the monthly reports that he has provided with his customary conscientiousness. It was, in fact, his most recent couple of reports that persuaded me to look into this matter. We can’t afford to pay the army.’
‘Can’t afford? What do you mean, can’t afford?’ spluttered Defence. ‘We have our soldiers on the ground. In fact they are camped on the border.’
‘That may well be the case, but the fact remains that the coffers are almost empty. It appears that our members have been spending a great deal more than we thought on their own pet projects. We are technically almost bankrupt. And that includes the army’s wages.’
‘That would be most unwise,’ said Foreign Affairs. ‘The last thing we need is a bunch of heavily armed soldiers wondering why they have no money. That sort of thing starts them thinking in ways that we wouldn’t want. Don’t you agree Defence?’
Defence nodded vigorously. ‘Damn right I do. You can’t not pay those who might have to die for you. It’s not ethical.’
The Prime Minister fixed him with a steady gaze. ‘You have ethics? You surprise me.’
‘Of course I do,’ snapped Defence.
‘And yet you are happy to invade Barmia just to cover up an expenses scandal. I can’t see the ethics in that, can you?’
‘We’ve all agreed to this. Just remember that,’ snarled Defence.
‘Yes,’ agreed the Prime Minister, ‘but none of the rest of us are pretending to have ethics. However, the fact remains, we need to raise money for this war. What do you suggest Treasurer?’
‘Well you are in charge of the Phestring finances, so I would presume that you would have a plan to raise money if needed. After all, when writing all of those reports I’m sure you put your considerable talents to the task of solutions.’
The Treasurer had indeed thought long and hard about how to extract Phestring from its current and self-inflicted financial crisis. None of the remedies he’d thought of would be popular. Time for some improvisation. After a moment’s thought he said, ‘We could get it from the assets we gain in Barmia.’
‘Not quick enough,’ said Defence. ‘My soldiers will not wait for their pay. ‘
‘We could borrow the money to pay them, and the use the assets we gain from the invasion to pay back the loans,’ suggested Arts.
The Treasurer shook his head. ‘I don’t think that there are many countries out there that will loan us money at the moment. We are up to our eyeballs in debt. We already have to pay back way too much interest. It’s crippling our economy. We really cannot afford more debt even if we found somebody stupid enough to loan us money.’
There was a short silence as the cabinet digested this news.
‘So if we can’t raise money from other countries, why not increase a tax or two,’ suggested Foreign Affairs.
‘Or even implement a new tax,’ suggested Education.
The Treasurer squirmed in his seat. Taxes were never popular with the general public, but he was in a spot. This was no time to have his loyalty to Phestring put into question. He decided to see if anybody else would help him out. ‘I am not a great believer in excessive tax,’ he told them, ‘but I am always open to suggestions.’
‘What about a general tax on services,’ said Foreign Affairs. ‘Ten percent should do it.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ said Defence. ‘I’m sure that the common Phestringian would be only too happy to help out in the war effort.’
Others around the table nodded.
‘Really?’ asked the Prime Minister. His cabinet colleagues were an amazing group of people with very short memories.
‘We’ll need to get it through the parliament quickly if we’re going to raise the money as quick as we need it,’ said Defence, ignoring the Prime Minister’s comment. ‘We’ll have to start lobbying everybody to make sure we get the numbers and don’t have any delays.’
‘Is there no other way to do it quicker?’ asked the Prime Minister. Surely one of them would jump to this bait.
‘There is always the Emergency Cabinet Powers Act of last year,’ said Education. ‘That lets us make decisions in here if we feel that national security is threatened. Do you think that the act is relevant to this situation?’
Defence jumped with both feet. ‘Yes it is, and I think that we would all agree that national security is threatened. Are we agreed on that?’
‘It certainly will be if your gomans don’t get paid,’ muttered the Treasurer.
Defence ignored him and looked to the Prime Minister. ‘What do you say?’
‘I say, Defence, that you all seem to have this under control,’ he replied. The Treasurer gave him a long, hard stare. He smiled back at him.
It was put to a vote. The Treasurer, much to his dismay, was given the responsibility of implementing the new tax, which would come into effect from six o’clock the following day. The Prime Minster fairly floated back to his office. He hummed a jolly tune to himself and ordered a cup of tea. Things were moving nicely.