In an exposé of the Rajapaksa-regime’s blatant hypocrisy, the political column of the weekly English newspaper Sunday Times has revealed the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), in a blatant violation of protocol has hired another US agency to white-wash the regime before the Obama administration.
This week’s column titled ‘Central Bank Ursurps Cabinet Powers in Bid to change US Policy’ has disclosed the CBSL has hired the Florida-based US firm – Liberty International Group LLC on which a whopping Rs. 99 million of state funds (a cost higher than running the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC) will be spent annually according to a contract that came into effect as of August 1 and continues until July 31, 2015.
According to ST, the contract has been signed by CBSL Deputy Governor Dr. P. Nandalal on behalf of the Monetary Board and by Connie Mack – the President of Liberty International Group who had also been a former member of the House of Representatives and an ex-member of the sub-committee on South Asia in the Foreign Relations Committee.
The six-page contract between the Monetary Board of the CBSL and the Liberty International Group LLC that had been obtained by ST has listed out the following three reasons (namely ‘statutory stability objectives’) for hiring the US firm:
1. A political environment in the United States of America (US) that is more conducive to enhancing Sri Lanka’s long-term political and economic aspirations;
2. A comprehensive information platform where decision-makers in the US receive clear and accurate information about Sri Lanka’s current achievements and future plans; and
3. A higher volume of private sector investment in Sri Lanka from the US.
It has further noted that the above three objectives are to be achieved for the following reasons:
1. Sri Lanka has suffered a long and brutal war.
2. The current international media focus on Sri Lanka is unbalanced, which the Monetary Board considers as being unfair, unwarranted, and overshadows the impressive post-war socio-economic achievements of Sri Lanka and also could undermine the long term US political geo-strategic and economic interests;
3. Sri Lanka has made an earnest and genuine effort to improve the living standards of people in the conflict-affected areas in the process of post conflict rebuilding and reconciliation.
4. The process of post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation is a long-term process and cannot be imposed from the outside and therefore, Sri Lanka needs reasonable time and space to undertake the task;
5. There are growing opportunities in Sri Lanka for additional direct US investment and businesses, as a gateway to the fast-growing South Asian region; and
6. It is necessary to have a re-calibration of US policy, based on a wider and fairer information base, leading to multi-dimensional and more balanced engagement with Sri Lanka.
The ST political columnist has pointed out that this particular deal struck by the CBSL has raised several issues of which the most burning is the usurping of cabinet powers by the CBSL.
“Since independence in 1948, it has been the responsibility of the External Affairs MInistry to create a conducive environment in any country for Sri Lanka’s long term political and economic aspirations executed through the country’s diplomatic missions,” the column states emphasizing in this particular instance, the CBSL transactions with the Liberty group has not even sought to obtain approval of the cabinet ministers.
The writer further commenting on the CBSL’s assertion that current international media focus on Sri Lanka is ‘unbalanced’, has stated that if that were true, the issue should have been raised with the Ministry of Mass Media and Information as it is that Ministry’s responsibility to formulate strategies and obtain approval from the Cabinet.
It has been revealed furthermore that the selection of the Liberty Group has been carried out in violation of usual terms – without any call for tenders or a proper transparent selection process. Adding insult to injury, in picking the US firm, the CBSL has also completely disregarded the role of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington. It adds that the CBSL deal with the Liberty Group is similar to the manner in which the Monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry, Sajin Vaas Gunawardena has hired several other new PR agencies.
It has also shed light on the earlier PR agency that serviced CBSL – the Thompson Advisory Group (TAG) to which US$ 683,635 had been paid in 2013, in which a segment of the finances had gone to a Sri Lankan limousine driver for his ‘expertise’ as a consultant.
“This action of the CBSL has opened the door for any state agency to unilaterally enter into its own agreements with foreign concerns with no resource approval by Cabinet and PR agencies are made arms of the government – at least in the US,” the ST notes.
It has also been highlighted that although the Rajapaksa-regime continues to carry out a strong campaign against the US locally, it is desperately attempting to get back into the good books of the US with the impending investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The ST Political column further states that despite the exorbitant finances spent by the regime, the move to hire PR agencies has been heavily criticised by retired diplomats and US officials who have pointed out that hiring agencies and retired legislators to bring about a foreign policy change from the Obama administration is a ‘futile and costly exercise with commensurate returns.’