Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thoughts on the Alnoor Kassam Campaign

It's easy to say "I won't vote for this candidate" - in fact I think most voters do that on an almost instinctive basis. It's a bit more difficult to articulate why you make such a decision.

Looking around at the various candidates for Mayor, we have two that seem to be plausible contenders - Dave Bronconnier and Alnoor Kassam.

Bronconnier (aka "Bronco") is a polarizing man - you either love him or you hate him. (I'm a little odd about it - I'm rather indifferent to the man). He's either the mayor that stood up to Edmonton and won the confrontation, or he's the weaselly guy with a one track mind about roads.

Before this election, I had only heard of Alnoor Kassam a handful of times, and besides a rather greedy decision to raise rents on an apartment building he owns by a multiple of 4, he's been a cipher to me.

But something about the man makes me feel uneasy. I can't put a finger on it - he presents well in public, and is generally a good speaker. So, why don't I trust him?

It's a combination of factors when it comes down to it.

First, although Alnoor claims that he was "cleared" of wrongdoing by Canadian immigration with respect to his involvement in the collapse of Kenya's Trade Bank, there's a world of difference between the kind of investigation that immigration is going to do and what charges someone may face in another country. Yes, I realize that Kenya's legal system is somewhat checkered, but the fact remains that Alnoor Kassam faces legal sanction should he ever choose to return to Kenya.

There's a much longer history to Kassam, who fled Kenya in 1993 with the law at his heels for his involvement in the country's greatest banking scandal.

He was a principal of Trade Bank, as well as Diner's Club. A huge inquiry over government subsidy of exports focused on the fate of the bank.

Kenyan officials have said he's welcome to return, as long as he coughs up $23 million Cdn he's alleged to have taken with him.

Kassam insists he didn't take a penny, noting that a Canadian immigration tribunal ruled in his favour.

Whether bribery and corruption are "part of the political culture" in Kenya is quite irrelevant to me as a Canadian voter. The impression I have is that Kassam "skipped town one step ahead of the law" - a worrisome and disturbing shadow cast over someone who wishes to lead a city the size and complexity of Calgary.

The second point is one of wondering about his motives. He is allegedly matching Bronconnier dollar for dollar on campaign spending - a number rumored to be in the vicinity of a million dollars or so. Considering the $160,000 annual salary that Calgary's mayor receives in remuneration, there's a few prickly questions that we have ask. While Bronconnier has had the last three years to fund raise for this campaign, Kassam can't - and doesn't - make the same claim - instead he is taking the money out of his own pocket. Fair enough, but what businessman spends $1,000,000 to recoup $480,000 over the course of the next 3 years? Even with my limited experience with high finance, that seems like a pretty odd investment. So, what is he seeking to gain? {especially in light of the unresolved questions surrounding the collapse of his ventures in Kenya, and some of the activities he freely admits to, one has to ask such a question}

The last point that makes me wonder about this candidate is the fact that he is seeking to lead this city after moving here relatively recently. His own bio shows that he has seldom stayed in any one place for very long - and has just moved to Calgary in the last four or five years. I hate to sound like a regionalist, but I have a hard time believing that he "gets Calgary" just yet. He may like the city, but does he really understand it and the complexities of it?

Like the guy who sold me my first house, Alnoor feels a little like he's out for his own interests - and is not above taking advantage of someone else to achieve his goals - whatever they may be.


Peter said...

I don't know. I for one think it's admirable that a businessman is willing to give up so much to run. To me, it shows he believes politics is a higher calling. He gets full marks for that.

As for Kenya, if the corrupt government there doesn't like him, that makes him good in my good.

I'm still not sure if I'll vote for him on Monday though - I'll need to read over his and Bronco's platforms a bit closer this weekend.

Grog said...

Don't lose sight of the reality that he was an active participant in that corrupt Kenyan environment as long as it enriched him.

I'm simply saying that the man has not convinced me that he's the kind of person I want in City Hall.

Anonymous said...

Where there is smoke there is fire!

Anonymous said...

Show me a politician that doesn't have an hidden agenda and I'll show you either a statesman or an unemployed, unelected politician.

As for checkered pasts, Alnoor's questionable clearance by Immigration Canada is no cart blanch for me. Between Kenya and Canada there are enough financial institutions that would be willing to 'look the other way' where substantial amounts of money are concerned.


Grog said...

It is not the "hidden agenda" per se that worries me, but when placed in the context of other activities and past history are unsettling to say the least.

Canadian immigration hearings are not a court of law, and the "standards of evidence" involved are relatively weak. That Canada still allowed him to take Canadian citizenship is not an exoneration of his past activities.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting comment here about how Alnoor is smart but ADHD.

For my part, everything I've seen about Alnoor Kassam is giving me a definite Peter Petrasuk vibe.


dragon said...

Alnoor raises too many thorny questions for me - if you want to read my rationale, please visit my blog where I have gone into it in great detail.

When it comes right down to it, Alnoor and one other director jumped town just before the crash of the Trade Bank. Concurrent with his departure some 23 million went missing, not to mention that the bank had to be liquidated once they found out how bad the finances actually were.

Either one hell of an unlucky coincidence or.... well, I have my own thoughts on it having done a bit of research on the news sources coming out of Kenya published at that time. That much money doesn't just go missing without some wrong doing. And if Alnoor is so innocent, why has he refused to return to Kenya - and why did he leave with his belongings at that lucky point in time?

I'm voting Bronco - while he may not be my favourite, he is hte only real option to Alnoor and I know that I can live with him the the mayorality seat.