US lobbyists making a killing of killings in Sri Lanka

[ Sunday Leader ] - [ Jul 19, 2009 01:07 GMT ]

The Sunday Leader has learned that the Government of Sri Lanka is paying the Washington firm Patton Boggs $35,000 a month "to provide guidance and counsel to the Embassy of Sri Lanka regarding its relations with the Executive and Legislative Branches of the US Government."

In other wordsthe firm is/was being paid to lobby on behalf of the current administration and keep US scrutiny away from the conflict in the north. The use of lobby groups as a means to sway the attention of those at the pinnacle of power in the world's most powerful nation is common practice. In Washington there are lobby groups for absolutely everything from soft drinks and fast food, to gun control and free trade agreements.

That this country's current administration sees the need to engage the rather expensive services of professional lobbyists however is an indication of the government's desperate desire to keep itself somehow in the US' good books. Or at least out of its bad books.

It has also been reported that in 2008 another firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP (BHFS) was contracted, for an annual fee of $600,000 by Sri Lanka's Washington Embassy 'to advise and assist the government with issues relating to Sri Lanka and the United States of America.'

An initial $ 300,000 payment was made to BHFS by Sri Lanka's previous Ambassador in Washington, Bernard Goonetileke in May, 2008. The government's lavish expenditure however appears to have fallen somewhat flat.

Lobby groups use access to the movers and shakers, in what remains the political epicenter of the world, to influence opinion in favour of their clients.

The US however has continued to condemn the government's conduct in the final phase of the war, and has strongly supported moves to launch an independent investigation into possible war crimes committed during the last days of the government's offensive in the north.

In exchange for the several hundred thousand dollars spent by the government so far Patton Boggs is reported to have produced a 'white paper' on the civil war and arranged a number of meetings between Sri Lanka Embassy staff in Washington and high level US government officials.

Sources claim that Patton Boggs arranged meetings between Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the US, Jaliya Wickramasuriya and Senator Richard Lugar.

However these meeting have evidently borne little fruit. The government's relations with the US remain at a low ebb. Crucially the US continues to drag its feet on the matter of the IMF loan which remains an urgentnecessity in terms of stabilising the country's battered economy.

Ultimately it appears that millions ofrupees of tax-payers' money has been spent enriching expensive law firms and slick Washington lobbyists adding to the billions already thrown into theblack hole of government waste.

And next time the government might want to look into cheaper and more effective methods of swaying US public and political opinion.

A simple poster campaign perhaps - an area in which the government already has considerable expertise, or maybe the embassy should considerhiring the growing ranks of US unemployed to distribute fliers outlining the government's point of view.