Millions wasted on abortive deal with United States lobby firm
( January 15, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) “A deal with a Washington DC “lobbying” firm by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema “to increase economic ties” with the United States has now been abandoned,” a Colombo based weekly, The Sunday Times reported.
According to the report, “ this is after more than US$ 150,000 or Rs. 22. 5 million of Sri Lankan taxpayer’s money has been paid out to this firm. It is not immediately clear whether the firm ST&R (Sandler, Travis & Rosenburg) was able to deliver tangible results for the money already paid to them.”
“It is now claimed that one of the aims for hurriedly hiring the firm, when a presidential election campaign was under way in the United States, was to determine whether Sri Lanka could make an entrée into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a massive trade deal agreed to in 2015 by the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and other countries to “deepen economic co-operation and boost growth” by reducing tariffs.”
“However, during the election campaign and even after his victory, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to scrap the TPP.”
The Sunday Times reported the controversial deal exclusively in its front page lead story on August 21 last year. The story revealed how promoting a non-existent “peace process” was also made one of the tasks given to the “lobbying” firm. The total cost of the Agreement with ST& R was then placed at US$ 630,000. The report revealed that even the Foreign Affairs Ministry was unaware of the deal. The US firm, it was revealed, has been picked without a competitive bidding process or a tender.
“Minister Samarawickrama defended this move with a statement saying the Sunday Times was writing “baseless” stories and pointed out to the scope of the agreement which was approved by the Attorney General and the Cabinet of Ministers and how the funds would come from the national budget etc.”
In response, the Sunday Times asked him why he picked this firm without a bidding process and why he was doing so during an election campaign in the US, and reminded the Minister of the on-going investigation into money laundering by the previous Government which also hired US lobbying firms.
A senior Government official, who did not wish to be named, pointed out the folly of signing this agreement when the US presidential election campaign was under way. “If they had waited until the polls were over, and seen how best to lobby the new US Administration, the public money which was squandered could have been saved. This is how careless people can get with public funds when they do these things without consultation,” said the official.