Concerning rats, garbage and credit cards

Now that I have your attention, consider this thought: when assessing the inner dynamics of Nunavut's political institutions, never underestimate the influence of filthy lucre.

Paul Kaludjak, president of Nunavut Tungavik Inc., whose job, with perks and benefits, provides him with income of more than $150,000 a year. Question: Why can't someone in that bracket use their own credit card? (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

NTI's first elected president, Paul Quassa, signing the Nunavut land claims agreement with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on May 25, 1993 in Iqaluit. Quassa departed the job about a year later to deal with various criminal allegations. Jose Kusugak took the job in a by-election and held onto it until 1999, when Quassa came back to defeat him. But in 2001, Quassa resigned after — guess what? — a corporate credit card scandal. (NUNATSIAQ NEWS ARCHIVE PHOTO)

Most of you will have heard by now that Paul Kaludjak, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., now finds himself under suspension for misuse of an NTI corporate credit card.

Such scandals do not surprise your humble content provider.

(Note: I’ve altered some details of the story that follows to prevent anyone from easily identifying those whose reputations might suffer pointless damage. But it’s all true.)

About 25 years ago, I found myself in Ottawa, visiting the office from which NTI’s predecessor organization, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, then operated. In those days, TFN’s charmless head office resided on Albert St. within the hideous confines of Ottawa’s downtown core, which may be the ugliest downtown core you’ll ever see in this country.

I stepped off an elevator into a large section of flourescent-lit office space that could just as easily have housed an accounting firm or a small insurance brokerage — on a Sunday morning. Every desk I saw sat unoccupied.

But at the end of a lonesome corridor off to one side, I found a person who actually worked at TFN, a woman who then edited the organization’s newsletter. After a pleasant social exchange with her, I took my search towards the back section.

There, a burly man opened a door and strode towards me, swinging his arms.

“Hey you. Are you Jim Bell?” he said.

“Um, yes,” I said. “I thought I would visit here today to um, er…”

“You belong down there with the rats and the garbage, just like all those other sleazy reporters,” he said.

Then he berated me for a good half hour over some story I wrote about TFN. I forget what the story was about. The yelling and abuse didn’t bother me, though. I once worked as a waiter in an Iqaluit bar, so I’m used to getting yelled at.

After he finished he shook my hand.

“Atii! Let’s go for a beer,” he said.

I followed him out the building and into a nearby bar, the kind of hotel bar where you sink back into well-upholstered seats and where young high-heeled women in miniskirts and fishnet stockings are ever-so-pleased to serve you.

It was a long evening. Many were the drinkers who arrived at our table to share our good cheer.

After four or five rounds, I thought it polite to reach for my wallet to pay for the next one.

“Put your money away, Jim,” my new friend shouted.

Then he produced a small piece of plastic.

“TFN corporate credit card! This evening’s on us,” he said.

How could I say no to such hospitality?

So in 2000, when Paul Quassa, then the president of NTI, became enmeshed in a corporate credit card scandal that led to his ultimate departure from the organization in 2001, I understood why he thought he could get way with it.

And so too do I understand the sense of entitlement that lies behind Paul Kaludjak’s more recent transgressions. Old habits die hard.

(The following added 6:45 p.m., Sept. 7)

But lest you conclude these incidents reveal a rising wave of corruption within NTI and other Inuit organizations, it’s my opinion that they reveal the opposite: that within NTI’s administrative staff and board there exist powerful elements of honesty and integrity.

In 2000, the full extent of Quassa’s financial irregularities came to light only because somebody very high up in the organization leaked his credit card statements and other documents to reporters. Influential people within the organization, appalled by their president’s actions, wanted to make this information public.

More recently, the decision by NTI’s board to suspend Kaludjak from the president’s job is a sign the organization’s senior managers wanted something done. Only NTI’s senior administrators could have spotted this and brought it to the board’s attention.

So if I were a beneficiary, I rather think I would be encouraged by these developments.

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