Yusuf Keketoma Sandi
20 March 2012
On the one side, there are those political opportunists – the vested interests and APC apologists who believe that as long as they are able to live in opulence, loot from the state coffers to build mansions, network their relatives and friends with top jobs – then their ‘Agenda For Change’ is working.
On the other side, there are those – 70% unemployed young people; millions of families struggling to survive on one meal a day; and thousands of qualified men and women whose names or social and regional backgrounds, have made the ruling APC to throw them out of employment, or denied economic and job opportunities.
So let us 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’s stolen dollars and newly printed notes are being used to pay for political defections. Yet we hear defectors like Lansana Fadika and Tom Nyuma, talk about President Koroma having a ‘development vision’ as the basis for their defection from the SLPP.
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 decide whether to renew their mandate.
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 who are determined to maintain the ruling APC in power because of the huge financial benefits they are able to gain – either personally or through their companies. This at the expense of the poor people of Sierra Leone.
A lot can also be said about journalists who are on the APC payroll or relatives and friends of ministers and APC executives, who live on government contracts. But the most POWERFUL vested interest in these forthcoming elections, are the 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, and many more, one will think that the shocking number of unemployed youths, the harrowing economic hardship and the infrequent supply of electricity and drinking water are mere myths.
As such, when a reliable source from within the ruling APC party boasted that most of the mining companies have contributed huge sums of money to pay for the APC voter registration drive and towards their election campaign, you know it must have been pay-back time from those mining companies.
In exchange, the government has granted those companies what can only be described as ‘UNPATRIOTIC’ mining agreements – with massive 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 shocking 8% revenue from the mining sector, you do not need to wonder why those mining companies are donating thousands of dollars to the APC election campaign fund 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, are the mining agreements, which the APC government has negotiated with both London Mining and African Minerals.
Quite disturbingly, the APC government has granted the London Mining company – a ten year tax break, reducing its tax rate from 37.5% to 6%; whilst the African Mineral agreement included an 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 shall be levied at 37.5%.
Bizarrely, whilst the London Mining Agreement exempts the company from paying Goods and Services Tax, the African Minerals and their contractors are also exempted from paying Goods and Services Tax.
This means that whilst petty traders, shop owners and small businesses, who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat, are being hounded to comply with the Goods and Services Tax Act passed in 2009, mining companies have been exempted from this tax, which seriously reduces our domestic revenue.
In this same context of vested interest, is the issue of APC claiming that Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of UK) has endorsed President Koroma for a second term.
While I have immense respect for Tony Blair, 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 Tony Blair’s ‘handshake of friendship’ with the late Muhammed Gaddafi – declaring 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 the ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity against his own people. And the rest is now for the history books. So, we should not be bothered too much about Tony Blair’s endorsement of president Koroma.
But, what is the case for our suffering people?
Thousands of young people – graduates and non-graduates, walk aimlessly around towns and cities without any prospect of finding jobs. There are thousands of women and girls – as young as eleven years old who live in the streets; they suffer the daily indignation of violence, harassment and bullying at nights.
There are millions of families who cannot afford to provide for their children, and as such these children resort to hawking for their own survival instead of going to schools. Thousands 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 for every 1,000 live births.
This ranks Sierra Leone as the world’s 12th worst country with respect to infant mortality, whilst even our neighbours – Liberia and Guinea have better infant mortality rates – with 72.71 deaths for every 1,000 live births for Liberia (Ranking 18th) and 59.04 deaths/1,000 live births for Guinea (Ranking 32nd).
Yet Sierra Leone was ranked the world’s 10th producer of diamonds by volume in 2010 and the world’s third 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.
So, for the forthcoming November 2012 elections, whilst political and economic opportunists or SLPP defectors may want to have their own share of the loot from state coffers; and the mining companies want to maintain the APC in power for their tax concessions and exemptions costing the nation billions of Leones in lost domestic revenue; ordinary suffering people simply want a government that cares and can provide opportunities 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?