Prime Minister Keith Rowley took the most unusual step of penning a “Letter to the Editor” and, under the caption “Our voice must be heard in the US”, seeks to extol the credentials of GroupDC and its CEO, Arthur Collins, as Trinidad and Tobago’s lobbyists in Washington.
Whilst no one can shed any light on the tendering procedure, we now know that in October 2016, the Rowley-led administration signed a US$2.4 million contract with the GroupDC to provide Trinidad and Tobago with lobbying services.
Something seems amiss that forced Rowley to try and “sell” GroupDC/Collins to the nation. Rowley admitted that Arthur Collins is a known PNM supporter who campaigned for the PNM in the 2015 general election.
Rowley recited GroupDC/Collins’s achievements and unverifiable credentials, which GroupDC/Collins placed on their own website without any client-related endorsements.
The reality is within the traditional Washington lobbying corridor, GroupDC/Collins is an unknown lobbyist with little or no achievement or reputation.
The prime minister seems to be violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations with regards to the role of GroupDC/Collins in Washington.
Rowley writes that there “are over 230,000 Trinbagonians, along with their families, living all over the United States. Our lobbyists ensure that our country, and in turn our people, have a voice and presence in the United States government.”
He further alludes to GroupDC’s “representation of Trinidad and Tobago allows us to leverage this institutional knowledge in furtherance of our nation’s goals”.
This international treaty specifies the privileges, rights and responsibilities and appointment of foreign representatives but makes no provision for a resident lobbyist.
The Official List of Duties of Trinidad and Tobago’s ambassador to the USA are as follows:
1. To advance Trinidad and Tobago’s economic interest in the USA
2. To advance Trinidad and Tobago’s social interest in the USA vis-a-vis contributing to the enhanced development of human capital; ensuring the effective coordination of all agencies in the public and private sectors in Trinidad and Tobago and the USA and ensuring that the country makes adequate use of the various opportunities for social and cultural cooperation
3. To advance Trinidad and Tobago’s security, consular and political interests in the USA
4. To advance Trinidad and Tobago’s consular interest in the USA
5. To advance Trinidad and Tobago’s political interest in the USA
GroupDC’s list of responsibilities appears to be identical to that of Trinidad and Tobago’s ambassador to the USA and one is forced to ask if this Rowley-led administration is operating with an “official ambassador” and a parallel “unofficial and/or PNM ambassador.”
The prime minister has effectively castrated Trinidad and Tobago’s sitting ambassador, rendering him useless and purely symbolic. This will further retard his already slow start.
But more importantly, who will GroupDC/Collins be lobbying given that US President Trump has signed a lifetime foreign-lobbying ban for members of his administration as well as a five-year ban for all other lobbying.
To complicate matters, Collins is professing to be a “senior Democratic political strategist” and he is now representing Trinidad and Tobago’s interests in Washington with a very much partisan Republican administration.
Why the haste to sign this contract days before the presidential elections?
Why did the GORTT not waited until the results were out to determine the strategy for hiring a lobbyist. This would clearly be based on the type of lobbyist to engage, i.e. Republican versus Democratic.
Rowley has admitted that Collins assisted the PNM in the 2015 GE; can this appointment be viewed as a form of payment by the state for political partisan work done for the PNM?
It also begs the question about the procurement process used to engage GROUPDC/Collins?
Can this explain why the PNM is hesitant to bring procurement legislation to parliament?
Is this another blatant case of corruption by this Rowley-led government?"
Yes, Prime Minister, our voice must be heard in the US but that voice should be that of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador Phillips-Spencer and the minister of foreign affairs… not your PNM friend and certainly not at a monthly cost ten times more than that of the salary of the ambassador.