By Saman Indrajith
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday told Parliament that he had ordered Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to conduct a full investigation into payments amounting to millions of rupees made to US Congressmen by the External Affairs Ministry under the previous government to lobby on behalf of Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that it was illegal according to the US laws for Congressmen to accept or offer such payments by other countries for such purposes.
The Prime Minister said so in response to a remark made by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake that it seemed that the previous government which won over opposition MPs by offering privileges and perks had done the same to US Congressmen, too.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that the investigation would reveal whether the US Congressmen had accepted any funds from the Ministry of External Affairs of Sri Lanka and if so, action would be taken to inform the US government of that.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith P. Perera responding to a question raised by the JVP leader said that the government of Sri Lanka had obtained the services of four US companies during the past five years to build a positive image of the country internationally. The companies were Patton Boggs LLP, Cranford Johnson Robinson PR, Steve Hedges and Majority Group LLC. The Patton Boggs LLP had been selected on the recommendation of Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya to the Ministry of External Affairs. The Cranford Johnson Robinson PR had been selected on the recommendation of Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke to the Ministry of External Affairs. No information on the selection of the two companies Steve Hedges and Majority Group LLC were available in the Ministry or the Lankan Embassy in the US.
The Patton Boggs LLP had been tasked with cultivating allies in the Congress for Sri Lanka, prevention of bills or resolutions against Sri Lanka in the House of Representatives, to assist the removal of Sri Lanka from the Watch List on Trafficking in Persons, to help the Travel Advisory on Sri Lanka to be lifted and to organise a US business delegation to Sri Lanka.
The Cranford Johnson Robinson PR had been assigned to handle media work for Sri Lanka and to conduct image building campaign with the US press.
Services of the Steve Hedges company had been obtained to research and give publicity on government of Sri Lanka’s initiatives on rehabilitation and reconciliation work, to respond to inquiries about Sri Lanka in media and others and to oversee media aspects during visits of foreign dignitaries.
Majority Group LLC had been tasked to obtain assistance in eradicating negative resolution, to organise congressional delegation to Sri Lanka, to organise fund raisers for Congressmen and to organise a Capitol Hill members meetings, Deputy Minister Perera said.
Lankan government had paid a total sum of USD 1,278,106 (153,017,288.94 LKR) to the four companies from 2010 to 2013, Parliament was told.