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No beating about the bush.
Attending a customer complaint in Kirkuk, an oil city that was well guarded and untouched by the ravages of war. The 11th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in Asia in the seventies and eighties
Thanks to Abbas, who had held on the hotel room, after our tiring journey and escape from being bombed to pieces in the hotel in Basra that refused our accommodation, we enjoyed a good sleep in Baghdad. We still had some eggs, khubbas and cheese in our stock and enjoyed our breakfast, before we set our site for a long haul to Kirkuk.
I cannot recall now, but I think it took us some four to five hours to reach the oil city of Kirkuk in the north. Though we did see some military vehicles on the move, these were rare and far between; people were moving about in mule-driven country carts or in small pick-up vans. Life was normal.
By mid-day, we stopped to have something to eat and Stephen insisted that he drive though both of us offered to give him some rest. We reached our site location with some difficulty, assisted at a military check point. It now became apparent that this oil city was well guarded and untouched by the ravages of war that was so evident in the south, particularly in and around Basra.
We were met by a number of people at the inspection site and were introduced to the engineer in charge, who happened to be a lady. She spoke English, though she had also an interpreter to assist her in our discussions.
The testing area was simple and laid across a compounded area. “The pipes supplied by you are ‘leaking’ and ‘not acceptable’ and we need ‘immediate replacement’, that was as simple a demand as she could make. Her assistant gently reminded us as to what happened to an European engineer when the roads they were building simply collapsed, like a landslide; he was jailed until the contractor took the assistance of a local contractor team to repair the damage!
On the surface, we realised that there was an apparent leakage; and these pipes had been laid underground like a maze and pressure was applied for the water to pass through. The pipes that we had supplied, a small quantity in number, were non-pressure rain water pipes and were not designed for use under the ground; and main supplies were manholes and they had not found any problem anywhere in using them, which is why they were rather surprised that our pipes turned out to be ‘defective’.
The lady first insisted that the engineers should discuss the issue themselves; this effectively removed both Stephen and myself away from the scene and gave us the opportunity to move about in the area. Stephen was, after all, a veteran in dealing with Iraqis; and that too government officials. He also knew the poor supply conditions during the war. Even otherwise, Iraqis always gave preferential treatment to Indian tea. He had couple of boxes of tea bags, both bagged and loose and we had also carried one that we were using in our trip.
As the discussion, began, he suggested that it should nicely start with a warm good cup of Indian tea and magically produced his box; we then excused ourselves from the scene, once he left a packet of biscuits to go with it.
We wandered around the area; there were stacks of our manholes in crates; galvanized pipes and gunny bags of fittings, and also cast iron pipes and fittings. Most of these did not have brand names; ours always carries the Kajeco embossed on them, like we found one or two crates.
We were called back to join them for tea, as it was ready by then; the engineers decided that the best way would be to dig up a couple of pipes, at random, and see how and where the leaks have occurred, so that we can resolve the issues. We requested the engineer to pick and choose the pipes, so that they can be dug out; when they did, they were, of course, dirty, and had cracks; we came to the immediate conclusion that cracks must have occurred in unloading or in their long truck journey from Basra, because damaged materials are not allowed into the vessel by the port or shipping company's supervisors. Yet, this was possible when crates are unloaded into the vessel. The brand mark was not there; we picked up few more pipes, and the situation was same. We had taken photocopies of British Standards Specification with us, and handed them over for their use.
We reminded them that as these pipes are meant for rain water drainage, mostly on the walls from the terrace to flow down and if any of them had a pin hole or crack, these would be covered by rust in a few days. But, as the pipes were not of our make and our manholes had not given them any trouble whatsoever, we departed in great spirits. Our dispute was resolved, thanks to the visit we undertook and travelled all the way to Kirkuk.
Our return journey was relaxed and we did not confront any military convoys or had to stop at any check-posts. I think we reached rather late, possibly around midnight.
With the main object of resolving the complaint, we went to sleep, with Stephen suggesting that we leave for Basra the next day.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
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