The PNM continues to embrace lobbyists with close political affiliations in the USA, costing taxpayers over US$18.585 Million/TT$126.6 Million and counting… yet not one tangible deliverable has ever been received!
According to the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley is in Barbados to participate in meetings with “high-level US Representatives” Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the US House Committee on Financial Service and former Senator (not current as stated) Christopher Dodd, an American lobbyist, lawyer, and Democratic Party politician.
The OPM’s release gives the impression this is an “official” meeting between the US and T&T Government which is incorrect.
Waters is on a trip to Barbados with Dodd, who is President Biden’s Special Advisor for the Summit of the Americas.
While Rowley will be attending a roundtable discussion on “De-Risking and Correspondent Banking” which will not have any binding consensus since this meeting is not sanctioned by the US Government, he continues to ignore that T&T remains on the EU’s Commission Tax Blacklist because of the Commission’s concern that T&T had major transparency concerns.
More importantly, Waters is a very close friend of Art Collins, who is also a personal friend of Rowley and the PNM. Collins’s firm, GroupDC was awarded a contract to be TT’s Lobbyists in Washington DC on October 31, 2016. GroupDC registered with the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA) as TT’s Lobbyists on October 28 2016 (Reg# 6388), three days before they “received” the contract from the Rowley-led PNM Administration. In essence, the Government was discussing a “sole source tender” with a firm that was not even a registered lobbyist in the USA!
Under what criteria then did GroupDC tender for this contract?
How was their tender evaluated?
What were their achievements and who were their clients they listed on their tender since, according to FARA, they only registered as lobbyists on October 28 2016?
Hansard records Rowley on March 6th 2017 as saying that it took from December 2015 to October 2016 to conclude an agreement in such a way that the Central Tenders Board could have made an award to GroupDC. (Hansard, Mar 6th, 2017, p.8)
The two-year contract signed in October 2016 was valued at US$100,000.00 per month (TT$681.318.00). It continues to be renewed and to-date, GroupDC/Art Collins has received from the T&T taxpayer approximately US$6,700,000.00 (TT$45,650,000.00) in lobbyists fees. And this amount increases every month by US$100,000.00 (TT$681.318.00)!
When this matter was first raised in Parliament in February 23rd 2017 by MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, Rowley vehemently denied that his Administration had secured the services of any lobbyists in Washington saying, “Where did he (Moonilal) ever get that from that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago hired a lobbyist for a million dollars to lobby Donald Trump, or the US Govt? That is a deliberate misrepresentation and an untruth.” (Hansard, Feb 23rd, 2017, p.95)
Rowley has never told the country about any single tangible benefit that TT has had from GroupDC’s representation in the USA.
But the PNM has a penchant for appointing its close friends and allies as Lobbyists for the GORTT in Washington. In 1993, the first Manning-led Administration awarded a lobbyist contract valued at US$300,000.00 (TT$2,044,000.0) to Holland & Knight. Vicky-Anne Asservero, a partner at this firm, was married to former PNM Minister Wendel Mottley.
In 2005, the second Manning-led Administration awarded a similar contract valued at US$7.500,000.00 (TT$51,108,000.00) to Ainsley Gill and Associates.
In 2006, the Manning-led Administration appointed another two Lobbyists, Ogilvy PR Worldwide contracted for US$80,000.00 (TT$543,000.00) and Patton Boggs, contracted for US$5,000.00 (TT$34,000.00).
In 2009, the Manning-led Administration entered into yet another two-year lobbying contract with Gill and Associates valued at US$4,000,000.00 (TT$27,256,000.00).
Gill is a Founding Member, Group CEO and Director of NiQuan Energy which is located at Petrotrin’s Refinery in Point-a-Pierre.
Under three PNM administrations, some of their close friends and supporters have received a total of US$18,585,000.00 (TT$126,635,000.00) for “providing lobbying services for the GORTT in Washington!!!
During the Robinson-led NAR Administration (1986-1991), Panday-led UNC Administrations (1995-2002) and Persad-Bissessar-led UNC Administration (2010-2015), there were never any foreign-based lobbyists contracted.
The individual charged with representing the interests and pursuing the agenda of the GORTT in Washington was the country’s Ambassador posted to Washington DC. GroupDC’s contracted terms and conditions are almost identical to that of the T&Ts current Ambassador in Washington, Anthony-Phillips Spencer.
Whilst the PNM continues to embrace lobbyists with close political affiliations, the costs to taxpayers of maintaining and staffing a T&T diplomatic Mission abroad, especially in Washington, are extremely high. Furthermore, like the Embassy in Washington, our diplomatic missions are generally provided with very little promotional funds and are not properly equipped to promote T&T. We pay rent, salary and allowances to the staff and then abandon them, in the Washington case, in favor of GroupDC and other lobbyists.
By not adequately funding our overseas Missions to undertake effective promotional work, the Government is not protecting this huge investment by taxpayers. Added to this dismal state of affairs, the Missions are generally staffed by ineffective officers who should not be in the diplomatic service in the first case.
Any T&T Ambassador, with diplomatic privileges and the support of an entire Embassy staff, who cannot promote and lobby for us at the highest level in the host country, should not be in that job, except, of course, if he or she was not properly funded and generally bypassed by the Government in favor of highly paid lobbyists.
As Rowley meets with his lobbyist’s personal friend in Barbados which is not an official meeting of the two Governments, it further reinforces that T&T has a “parallel” Ambassador in Washington.
By Capil Bissoon