Malik hires another US firm to lobby for LankaView(s):
Foreign Ministry unaware; non-existent peace process part of the deal, Sajin under investigation for hiring lobby firms
By Our Diplomatic Correspondent
Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema has engaged a United States lobbying firm to educate officials on a non-existent peace process, increase economic ties and market access.
The firm, Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg (ST&R), has filed a registration statement, as required by US law, with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for this new deal. Its records are publicly available in the US and through its website. It has named its client as the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade. It has not said who in the Ministry concluded the deal.
The decision to retain this US firm comes in the wake of the National Unity Government having slammed the former UPFA Government for retaining ten different lobbying firms in the US. Former Monitoring MP Sajin Vaas Gunawardene has been implicated in the exercise.
Funds for those lobbying firms were remitted through the Central Bank without any recourse to the Cabinet of Ministers. These questionable deals are now the subject of investigations by the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
The firm ST&R hired by Minister Samarawickrama had previously been hired to fight an anti-dumping case in the US on hard tyres. It is related to a Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka through the Board of Investment involving a Belgium firm. The case has already been heard in the US and is to continue in a few months’ time. The result of this case will be crucial to Sri Lanka. An official in Colombo familiar with the workings of US lobbying firms said yesterday that ST& R is a Customs law firm and was not well geared to undertake the new tasks Sri Lanka expects in the US.
Another important aspect is the discovery by the Sunday Times that the Foreign Ministry is unaware of Minister Samarawickrema’s arrangement. An official there said, “We were not informed of an agreement with ST&Rs. We have not been told. At least as a matter of courtesy, we should have been informed”.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Matters (CCEM) is reported to have given the nod for hiring ST&R. However, fuller details of the profile of the lobbying firm or its standing vis-à-vis others in terms of value for money have not been correctly assessed. The ST&R has also been tasked to work towards “expanding the caucus on Sri Lanka, monitoring policy and writing briefs” – all responsibilities which is cast on the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC.
A monthly fee of US$ 30,000 is to be made to the firm. This will continue until January next year.