Leading newspaper reveals details of govt. involvement with US lobbying firms

Leading newspaper reveals details of govt. involvement with US lobbying firms

Leading newspaper reveals details of govt. involvement with US lobbying firms

Written by Staff Writer

27 Jul, 2014 | 10:50 pm

An exposé in the Sunday edition of the Ceylon Today newspaper reveals that the Government has pursued several US-based lobbying firms, squandering over Rs. 100 million in order to defend its status in the global arena, particularly in the US.

It is said that the administration currently pays four US lobbying firms to defend the country and four are under contract or active accounts in the US.

The exposé published by Ceylon Today notes that the latest additions with the Foreign Agents Registration Act contracts in the US are the Madison Group and Beltway Government Strategies.

Besides these two firms, Thompson Advisory Group LLC (TAG), whose contract ended on March 15, 2014 was paid Rs. 100 million or approximately US$ 800,000, at the rate of US$ 66,600 per month for its services till March 2014.

Another lobbying expense of US$ 348,000 was paid out to Majority Group LLC in 2013 by Sri Lanka.

As reported in Ceylon Today, the Madison Group has undertaken the task of “assisting the Ministry of External Affairs with creating situational awareness of current affairs in Sri Lanka” and the payment subjected to this process is US$15,000 a month in fees for their services, plus expenses and bonuses for performance.

One of the agents who works for Madison Group was quoted saying the contract with the Madison Group will last through June 2015 with the possibility of renewal.

The registration with Beltway indicates it’s working with a government of a foreign country and the foreign principal is the office of the Monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs.

When queried by Ceylon Today, Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs Sajin Vass Gunawardane said:

“The Ministry of External Affairs continues to engage with the international community in communicating with the current developments in Sri Lanka and addressing issues that are faced by us. This is our job — is there anything wrong in us performing our duties and obligations?”

He also alleged that LTTE-front organizations are spending over US$ 2.5 million per year for a single company to lobby on their behalf.

MP Sajin Vass Gunawardane also had this to say:

“You must also understand that USA works very differently to Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. The Executive, the Senate and the Congress are totally detached from each other. Opinions are made; policy is formulated based on the extent of lobbying that is done by interested parties on various issues. In their system, Congress and Senate base their decision-making on this. I must admit that Sri Lanka has not been very successful in placing ourselves properly in this context. We cannot try to implement a method as we are used to here. Instead we have to follow the practice in the USA. I don’t see anything wrong in this. We need to get our message across. Our adversaries basically have caucuses every week on issues pertaining to Sri Lanka. Therefore, whilst we need to counter this, we need to also get it across that there is another side of the story a legitimate one. Is there anything wrong in this?”

However, in the exposé, Ceylon Today notes that whilst lobbying can be considered a usual practice, the matter of concern is where were such moneys obtained from and what outcome had the government enjoyed after paying Rs. 100 million to TAG. The contract that ended on the 15th of March this year.

Ceylon Today further notes that the US Government itself has worked closely with clients, notable advocacy initiatives, keeping lobbyists at bay with hardly any payment involved.

MP Sajin Vass Gunawardane also said to Ceylon Today that he is acquainted with Imaad Zuberi, a close associate of US President Barack Obama, but he also admitted that he does not know how influential Zuberi is with the Obama administration.

According to the Ceylon Today report, Imaad Zuberi is of Pakistani origin and is purportedly one of the close associates of Obama. He is an active fundraiser for the Obama administration and Sri Lanka has approached him to be a go-between for the two governments to bring about change in the US stance on Sri Lanka.

Incidentally, Zuberi is a partner of Beltway Government Strategies, which is lobbying on behalf of Sri Lanka.

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