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As we draw closer to the elections, it has become more obvious that our elections will be fought out between two opposing sets of people. On the one side, there are those political opportunists, the vested interests and the APC apologists who believe that as long as they drive big cars, loot from the state coffers to build mansions, network their relatives and friends with top jobs then the Agenda For Change is working. On the other side, there are those 70% of unemployed young people; millions of families struggling to feed on a meal a day; and thousands of qualified men and women whose names or backgrounds have made the APC to throw them out of offices or denied them jobs. So in this piece, I will look at the case of both sides and leave my readers to choose where they belong.
So let start with those political opportunists or put mildly the SLPP’s defectors. The sad reality is that it was a renowned diplomat who once remarked that some of our politicians can be bought for anything. Thus, we must not be too surprised if the APC dollars and new notes have been buying few over. The funniest part normally is when you hear people like Lansana Fadika or Tom Nyuma talk about President Koroma having a ‘development vision’ as the basis of their defection. Well, our suffering people can see what this development vision is all about: APC ministers and top party executives building two or more houses, owning fleet of cars and their relatives usurping billions of Leones from government contracts for personal wealth. As such those who are defecting now to the APC want to share in that ‘development vision’ because they know the APC only have few months before our suffering people make their choice. In fact, I may remind you that after Lansana Fadika (then Western Area Chairman, SLPP) defected to the APC for his own ‘development Package’, the suffering people of Fourah Bay community, ward 369 made their choice by rejecting an APC councillor in a by-election. So, now that Tom Nyuma has gone for his own ‘development package’, needless to talk about the people of Kailahun.
But what about those Vested Interests? The Vested interests in our politics today are those groups of individuals or companies which seek to maintain the present APC in power because they derive benefits either personally or through their companies. For now, I will not bother with those journalists who are on the APC payroll or relatives and friends of ministers and APC executives who live on government contracts. I want to talk about the most POWERFUL vested interest in these forthcoming elections: those MINING COMPANIES. As a country perhaps our small population relative to our vast natural resources such as diamonds, gold, rutile, ilmenite, zircom, iron ore, bauxite, petroleum etc, one will think that the shocking numbers of youths unemployment, the harrowing hardship and the infrequent supply of electricity and drinking water are mere myths. As such when a reliable source from within the APC boasted that most of the mining companies have contributed huge sums of money for the APC voter registration drive and towards their election campaign, you know it must have been a pay-back time from those mining companies for all those UNPATRIOTIC mining agreements which the APC government negotiated with them especially the Tax Concessions and Exemptions. For instance, according to a Dan Watch Report, October 2011,‘In 2010, the mining companies accounted for almost 60% of export ($200 million) but only 8% ($24 million) of government revenue came from the mining sector’. Well, with such a shocking 8% from the mining sector, you do not need to wonder why those mining companies are donating to the APC thousands of dollars to keep them in power. The Report went on ‘The biggest exporter of minerals, Sierra Rutile, pay as little as 2.2% of export value to government whilst they have also reduced their royalty rate from 3% to 0.5%.
Worst still, there are those mining agreements which the APC negotiated with both London Mining and African Minerals. For instance, a very disturbing clause the APC government negotiated with the London Mining company was a ten year tax break reducing its tax rate from 37.5% to 6% whilst the African Mineral agreement included a clause for them to pay income tax of 25% per annum. Shockingly, these two clauses in both agreements contravene the Income Tax Act 2000 and Sierra Leone Tax Guide 2009 both of which state that standard or minimum rate of income tax for mining companies is 37.5%. Bizarrely, whilst the London Mining Agreement exempts the company from paying Goods and Services Tax, the African Mineral agreement also exempts that company and its contractors from paying any Goods and Services Tax. This means that whilst petty traders, shop owners and small businesses which struggle to keep their businesses afloat have been hounded to comply with the Goods and Services Tax Act passed in 2009, those big mining companies have been exempted from this tax which will seriously reduce our domestic revenue.
In this same vested interest context, another issue which I will briefly touch on is the issue of APC claiming that Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of UK) has endorsed President Koroma for a second term. Well I have immense respect for Tony Blair but recent history tells us that his endorsement for a sitting head of state has left too much to be desired. In March 2004, we remember when Tony Blair offered a ‘handshake of friendship’ to the late Muhammed Gaddafi and declared that the world would benefit from Libya becoming a ‘strong partner of the West’. However, after seven years, in 2011 the late Gaddafi, once hugged by Tony Blair, was charged by ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity against his own people. And the rest now is history about the late Gaddafi. So, we cannot be bothered too much with endorsement from Tony Blair.
So, what is the case for our suffering people? Thousands of young people, both graduates and non-graduates walk aimlessly around towns without the prospect of jobs. There are hundreds of young women and girls as little as eleven years old who live in the street just to make a living and they continue to be victims of harassment and bully at nights. There are millions of families who cannot cater for their children and as such these children resort to hawking for their own survival instead of going to schools. Hundreds of our old people and those with disabilities are practically living as beggars in the streets. According to a Central Intelligence Agency statistics for 2012, Sierra Leone’s Infant Mortality Rate is 76.64 deaths/1,000 live births which means the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year. This ranks us as the world’s 12th worst country of infant mortality whilst even our neighbours Liberia and Guinea have better infant mortality rates than us with 72.71 deaths/1,000 live births for Liberia (Ranks 18th) and 59.04 deaths/1,000 live births for Guinea (Ranks 32nd). Did someone just whisper about the APC free health care initiative? Hence, with the plights of young people, families, women, children and even infants, it is unbelievable that they live in a country which was the world’s 10th ranked producer of diamonds by volume in 2010 and the world’s third ranked producer of rutile (Kimberly Process Rough Diamond Statistics 2011). In the same 2010, we exported a total of 550,395 carats of diamonds worth $129.6 million.
Therefore, for these elections in 2012, whilst those opportunists or SLPP defectors may want to have their own share from the state coffers and the mining companies want to maintain the APC in power for their tax concessions and exemptions costing us billions of Leones in our domestic revenue, ordinary suffering people just want a government that cares and that can provide opportunities for people to make the best use of their lives. Hence these elections are ABOUT the people, FOR the people and BY the people. So which side do you belong?
By: Yusuf Keketoma Sandi BA (Hons), LLB (Hons) London
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