Electioneering and Chewing Gum: The Best Examples of Motion Without Progress

There is some indication that as the November Elections get nearer, some people will go to great lengths to have their say; and in some cases hope to influence the outcome of the election one way or the other. This can be seen by many as “electioneering”. Some cynics believe that “elections are held to delude the populace into believing that they are participating in government”. Elections are generally won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody. Whether this will be the case in the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone is any body’s guess.

Elections should be about choosing sides, and demanding the ballot is an undeniable right of every man or woman who is called to the poll. However, special care should therefore be taken so that the constitutional rule and principle, by which the majority alone can decide in parliamentary elections, are not violated. Nevertheless, the existence of parliaments and elections alone cannot define democracy; for organising a free and fair election can be more important than the result itself. Wishful thinking you may say, and liken it to foxes expressing their sincere interests in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

To all intents and purposes, it sounds like the results might be more important to others; hence every trick in the book, no matter how mischievous will be employed by some people to win votes or discredit their opponents. It is against this background that a recent article, purportedly written by an American businessman Mark O Heiligman, has been received with a dim view by the party opposite. His article, which was reportedly published in “The New Nation” among others, was suspiciously seen as a political machination against the ruling APC Party. Members have already started crying foul.

 Certain aspects of the article have been seriously questioned in many quarters, not least by APC stalwarts. The fact that it was published in “The New Nation Newspaper”, a tabloid known for its political affiliation with the opposition SLPP party, has raised questions about not only the authenticity but also the motive behind such a publication. In addition, others have questioned the timing of the publication as well. This piece is not intended to verify the authenticity of the claims, but rather the motive, together with its inherent repercussions and political currency.

In his article, Mr. Heiligman alleged that he was duped by the Vice President, Sam Sumana in some business transaction. The article accused the President of colluding with his VP to hoodwink Mr. Heiligman. The President and his VP were described as “two peas in a pod”. According to the Cocorioko Newspaper, he has since retracted his story and that “(I) made a mistake and (I) will apologise to the people of Sierra Leone for saying the things that I said about the president”. His assertion that both the President and his VP are “two peas in a pod” seems to stem from his theory of association; that the President must know about his dealings with VP Sumana by virtue of his association with the latter. The logic of such assertion, that the left hand must know what the right hand is doing is also open to personal interpretations.

Some critics have questioned why it took so long for Mr. Heiligman to make such an accusation, especially on the eve of the general election. The timing and the choice of medium seem to deprive what may seem like a genuine burst of frustration of any credence. For all we know, he may be making a genuine case for his failed business transaction, but it will be naive to take this hook, line and sinker. That is for the VP and him to sort out. Although he has reportedly denied any political motivation for his article, many will find it difficult to see it otherwise; considering the twin issues of the involvement of The New Nation Newspaper and the timing of the publication.

In another online media outlet Critiqueecho.com, (23/07/12), detailed accounts and correspondence via email, between the complainant and the newspaper were published. The account which reportedly gives a verbatim chronology of the said dealings between Mr. Heiligman and the VP was also published. A further letter reportedly addressed to the President, Mr. Earnest B. Koroma, drawing his attention to the matter was also published. Other newspapers have since published accounts of Mr. Heiligman retracting his allegations; especially the one directed at the President’s knowledge of and collusion with his VP in the matter. The accusations, counter-accusation  and retraction may have left some  readers none the wiser.

It will be recalled that this is not the first time that the VP’s name has been dragged into such muddy waters. The “Timbergate” affair is still in intensive care for judicial surgery. When the story broke, the hue and cry that followed is too well documented to require a repeat prescription. Sorious Samura was lambasted from every angle, presumably for being “unpatriotic”. But to oppose corruption in government could be the highest obligation of patriotism. This time there is an international flavour to the accusation, which in itself does not augur well for the citizens of the country. This piece is not intended to deal with the veracity of the accusation, but even the most ardent of patriots, or better still APC stalwarts will find it difficult to disagree; that it is a major embarrassment for the party and the country as a whole. The question of whether it is true or not still reeks of some embarrassment. For the VP of a nation to be associated with such allegations is not clever.

The hope is that the government and especially the VP will do their best, in a timely manner to clear their names in this matter. Procrastination can be a subtle form of corruption, because it can corrupt valuable time. Sometimes, bad company corrupts good character and flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver. We can liken corruption to a ball of snow; that once it sets rolling it will increase. And this brings us to the issue of the character of Mr. Heiligman.

Mr. Heiligman would like to come across as all saintly in this debacle. By his own admission, his “relationship with Sam began about two years before the civil strife in your country ended”.  According to the United Nations Security Council, the “embargo against the import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone without a valid certificate of origin, imposed by resolution 1306 (2000) and renewed by resolution 1446 (2002), EXPIRED on June 2003” (Press Release S/C 7778, AFR/634). The war in Sierra Leone officially ended in 2002. If Mr. Heiligman started his business relationship two years before the end of the war, it is logical to conclude that he embarked on such a venture in contravention of the UN Security Council embargo; which qualifies him to have possibly dealt in “blood diamonds”. Talk about soldiers of fortune- bling bling in America, bling bang in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leoneans do not need a reminder of the root causes and the fuel that fanned the flames of the war in the country. Charles Taylor’s recent visit as guest of honour, to The Hague is a fresh testimony of the atrocities that the country suffered as a result of soldiers of fortune or merchants of death. Interestingly, Mr. Heiligman boasts of his partner, Dave Kloeber, as “a powerful self-made man” who has been ranked “as one of the top 5 businessmen in Minnesota”. Ironically, he states in one of his correspondences that “we know that Sierra Leone is under constant scrutiny and is desperately trying to shed its “blood diamond” past. We were one of the first operations back in your country after the war ended and had planned to market Sierra Leone’s new legitimate diamond industry as being “life-blood diamonds”.  Here comes the good Samaritan who could not even wait for the UN Security Council embargo on Sierra Leone’ diamonds to be lifted; because “we sincerely wanted to help Sierra Leone rise up from the ashes”. (Critiqueecho.com). Yea right, the return of the phoenix.

Mr. Heiligman recalled significant amounts that were exchanged between him and the VP. In one account, he states that when a run-off of the election became necessary, “Sam and Mr. Koroma once again turned to us for a “loan” of £34,000; with the “implied promise of repayment”. Why “implied”, if your intention was above board?  He further claimed that he has “corroborating invoices and statements, as well as an extremely reliable source within the government of Sierra Leone”. Mark Heiligman, “a 1979 graduate of the Gemmological Institute of America claims to have been in the cutting, manufacturing, wholesale and retail diamond business across the U.S for over 34 years”. With such a pedigree to die, you would think of better and more dignified ways to seek restitution.

For all we know, he MAY have “genuine” reasons to be aggrieved., but since this piece is not intended to verify his claims, you would think that with such expertise and experience, Mr. Heiligman would have utilised better avenues to reclaim his money or otherwise. A more professional method would have been through the judicial system. Running to the press “may” even have achieved its “intended purpose”, but that has also created a credibility deficit in the bargain.  Although corruption has never been compulsory, an accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference. “When rich villains have need of poor ones, poor ones may make what price they will” (Shakespeare). This is neither an accusation, nor an excuse for the above. Heiligman has reportedly retracted his story, apologised profusely but some of us are not clear about what he is apologising for: for the allegations, untruths, or for having the audacity to suggest that corruption is top ranking?

This election year has seen various tactics being used by both parties, through their respective media outlets to make the other look bad or less electable. It is not surprising that every little allegation, innuendoes, mishaps are capitalised on for maximum political currency. In Sierra Leone today, you can easily tell that the election isn’t far away when a candidate can recognise you from across the street. However, an election cannot give a country a firm sense of direction if it has two or more national parties which merely have different names but are alike in their principles and aims as two peas in the same pod (Franklin D. Roosevelt). Someone once said that “politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other”. Discuss.

Don’t forget your ballot paper when you get to the ballot box.

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