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…Opposition digs deeper into multimillion contract, presses gov’t for answers
By Svetlana Marshall
President Irfaan Ali has expressed satisfaction with his Government’s selection of The Cormac Group to provide lobbying services on behalf of Guyana in the US but the country’s main opposition – the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) wants answers on the circumstances that led to the multimillion contractual agreement with the US lobbying firm.
In response to a question posed by Village Voice News on the sideline of a swearing in ceremony at the Office of the President on Friday, President Ali said he has confidence in the firm’s ability to represent the interest of Guyana.
“I have great confidence in the firm that was selected, and in the technicians and the approval system, so I have no difficulties with Guyana’s representation,” the Head of State said.
The Cormac Group is among lobbying firms the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C), through its ally – the International Center for Democracy, had hired during the highly controversial 2020 Elections to land Ali in Office.
According to a document filed by The Cormac Group with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation entered into a six-month agreement with the lobbying firm on December 28, 2020 for the provision of government relations and lobbying services.
Among the lobbyists to represent Guyana is Otto Reich, a controversial American diplomat who was linked to the Iran-Contra Scandal that erupted during President Ronald Reagan’s term in Office, and accused of engaging in “prohibited, covert propaganda activities” in breach of US protocols.
Ali said while he did not examine all the lobbyists to represent Guyana, he remains confident in the firm. “…What I know is that the firm has very good ratings and we, the Government, have to select a firm that it is comfortable with, and it has confidence in to represent its interest,” he said.
According to him, the move to hire the firm was necessary. “The issue of Guyana’s representation is very important. We have a development agenda, we have massive changes that will take place, we have security environment, and we have different sectors that we have to represent and portray internationally. We are also playing on different international stage and it is very important that we have representation,” the President explained.
In keeping with its commitment to hold PPP/C Government accountable, the APNU+AFC, through its Member of Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Amanza Walton-Desir, submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs a total of nine questions for written reply by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd.
MP Walton-Desir is seeking to ascertain the criteria used by the Foreign Affairs Ministry for the selection of The Cormac Group, the various foreign policy scenarios that informed the choice of the specific firm, and the procurement process utilised.
“Can the Minister indicate whether other firms or groups were considered, the names of those groups or firms and indicate also the considerations which gave Cormac Group LL.C the competitive advantage over the other firms or groups?” is among the questions tabled.
Further, MP Walton-Desir wants the Minister to indicate whether there will be an overlapping of functions with regards to those executed by the Ministry’s foreign service personnel particularly those in Washington D.C, and those of the firm, and to what extent.
When a similar question was put to Minister Todd earlier this week by Village Voice News, he said the matter is more complex than one would think. “It is necessary sometimes to have outside contractors to facilitate; that’s just the way the world works. Nation states understand that behavior, and we are not the only small state in CARICOM that does that,” Minister Todd told this publication.
Now, MP Walton-Desir wants him to indicate whether the Mission in the US is adequately equipped to represent Guyana’s interests, and if so, why the Government deemed it necessary to hire a lobbying firm.
She is also seeking information on the reporting mechanisms in place, and the system being utilized to ensure that the opposition parties in the National Assembly are engaged in the process with Cormac.
During a virtual press conference on Friday, Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon said the PPP/C has always been in the business of “spinning” information. Nonetheless, he said the agreement with Cormac comes notwithstanding the fact that Guyana has a mission in the US.
“The Government has access to a huge foreign service; these are officers who are paid by the state to represent the interest of this country, and if you say you are doing that, that means you are saying you don’t have interest as a government in your foreign service,” Harmon posited.
He added: “Rather than training Foreign Service officers to be able to do what these lobbyists are doing you are prepared to pay the US dollars to persons who are in position to do what your own people could have done, that is the problem.”
Based on the agreement, which spans for a period of six months at a cost of US$25,000 or more than GUY$5M a month, Cormac will provide government relations and lobbyist services on issues of importance to the PPP/C Administration, and will include outreach to US Congressional Members, staff, executive branch officials, and relevant private sector organizations.