BY SULOCHANA RAMIAH MOHAN
The Government has gone after several US based lobbying firms squandering over USD 100 million in order to defend its status in the global arena, especially the US.
It is said that the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa currently pays four US lobbying firms to defend the country and four are under contract or active accounts in the US.
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 15 March 2014 was paid Rs 100 million, 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.
The Madison Group has undertaken the task of “assisting the Ministry of External Affairs with creating situation awareness of current affairs in Sri Lanka” and the payment subjected to this process is US$15,000 a month in fees for their services, plus expenses and bonuses for performance. The contract with the Madison Group will last through June 2015 with the possibility of renewal, one of the agents who works for Madison Group quoted.
The registration with Beltway indicates its working with a government of a foreign country and the foreign principal is office of the Monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs.
When queried Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs Sajin Vass told Ceylon Today, “Not only in the USA, the Ministry of External Affairs continues to engage with the international community in communicating with the current developments in Sri Lanka and addressing issues that are faced by us. This is our job, is there anything wrong in us performing our duties and obligations?, he countered. He also said that the LTTE front organization is spending over US$ 2.5 million dollars per year only for one company to lobby on their behalf.
“You must also understand that USA works very differently to that of 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?” he queried.
Whilst considering lobbying as 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 15 March 2014.
The US Government has worked closely with clients, notable advocacy initiatives, keeping lobbyists at bay and hardly any payment involved.
The MP who admitted that he knows Imaad Zuberi, one of the close associates of US President Barak Obama, also admitted that he does not know how influential he is with the Obama administration. Imaad Zuberi, is of Pakistan origin and is purportedly one of the close associates of Obama, he is an active fundraiser for the Obama administration and Sri Lanka have approached him to be a go between for the two governments to bring about the change in the US stand on Sri Lanka. Zubari is a partner of Beltway Government Strategies which is lobbying on behalf of Sri Lanka.