We, the people, are yet reeling from the stunning exposé of renowned journalist, Jai Parasram, who brought to our, the people's, attention that, apparently, far beyond these shores, the people's money has been diverted into private pockets by surreptitious official legerdemain.
The Jyoti Communications report details how the people's money was paid out, lavasse, for the purpose of purchasing real estate to facilitate Trinidad and Tobago's (T&T's) foreign service operations in Canada, USA and other parts of the world, at a time when prevailing market conditions suggested such properties could easily have been acquired many-millions-of-dollars cheaper than they actually were; at a time, too, when "families in Trinidad and Tobago continue to struggle to pay for food and shelter". (See: http://jyoticommunication.
Now, it seems clear that such practice ---of siphoning off the people's money in foreign lands for no useful purpose--- is the norm rather than the aberration, for, from my own investigation, over the years many millions have been paid to shady foreign firms and individuals to do precisely what, simultaneously, it's also costing us, the people, many millions to do through T&T's erstwhile diplomatic corps.
In case you're slow on the uptake, the "shady foreign firms and individuals" to whom I've just referred belong to the species of vermin called "lobbyists"!
Inherently, there's nothing wrong with lobbying, once everything's above board, which is why every country has a Ministry dedicated to conducting its foreign or external affairs; which is why there exists specialty professions known as Foreign Relations and International Relations; and which is why there's an excellent class of men and women called "the diplomatic corps", such as Dennis Francis at the United Nations (UN) HQ in Switzerland and Sandra Honoré in Costa Rica.
Dennis and Sandra are based in locales where Trinidad and Tobago has, for ages, cultivated and maintained visible presence in countries because, traditionally, she there has deep-seated links. The United States of America is another such country. In truth, the USA is so important to the T&T scheme of things that the latter has deemed fit to operate not one, but three, diplomatic offices ---Washington [Embassy], D.C., New York and Miami [Consulates General]. The engine room of each office comprises a dozen or more highly-qualified and experienced members of T&T's diplomatic corps. Furthermore, T&T also has an embassy to the United Nations (UN) that's also sited in the USA. (See: http://foreign.gov.tt/pages/
The combined effect of those four within-the-USA offices means that, in and from the USA mainland, T&T has direct and official contact, not only with the entire USA government, but, moreover, with every single foreign government that's a member of the UN! Why, then, must T&T hire private US lobbyists to champion its cause in the USA? And, even if it's necessary that it does, how may the product of such lobbyists be measured against their cost to us, the people?
First off, one must get a firmer grip on the nature of the beast.
"While the term 'lobbyist' was coined in the early nineteenth century to refer to "representatives of special interests waiting in the lobbies or anterooms of elected officials to make their cases", lobbying, or government relations consulting, dates back to the origins of organized government.
Lobbying has played a major role in shaping American public policy. It is a deeply-rooted tradition guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids the US Congress abridging the right of the people 'to petition the government for redress of grievances.'
James Madison, whose essay No. 10 in The Federalist Papers remains the basis of political theory on interest groups, saw as innate and inevitable the propensity of human beings to pursue their own interests.
Lobbying is now an established industry subject to extensive disclosure requirements and regulation."
Or, paraphrasing from Wikipedia:
In the USA, as time progressed, so, too, did the reliance on lobbyists to get one's agenda accomplished: to the extent that, by the end of the 20th century, the pervasiveness of the lobbyist led the average Joe to the conviction that every politician was in the pocket of some moneyed interest. For, lobbying is a business ---the lobbyist sets up shop to make money for himself/herself. How? By providing a service which his/her clients swear is absolutely necessary to advance their interest.
However, deft marketing is prerequisite to success in the rat race world of business. Thus, the business ventures which make and sustain "it" are those which are as efficient in ensnaring the prospective customer as the wriggling, juicy worm impaled on the concealed hook is regarding the hapless fish. That's why post-modern lobbyists are cloaked in any guise but that of naked "lobbyists". The one most often worn is that of "Government Relations Consultants". The disguise was marvellous, for, by the year 2008 damned, the US lobbying industry in Florida alone had an annual turnover of U$200m (see: http://www.sptimes.com/2008/
Then came Obama!
One of the main planks of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential run was that of the people taking back Washington from the vested interests. His call resonated with such fierce urgency that millions of American voters who'd utterly given up on the political process felt compelled to rouse themselves to help upset the long-established applecart and install him, a black man, in the Oval Office as the 44th President of The United States of America.
From the very outset, Obama stiffened his resolve against influence-peddling in the Washingtonian corridors of power, so much so that the few members of his administration who, at one time or another were themselves lobbyists, could only assume office after the President himself issued a waiver in their behalf, which waiver did not prevent a cacophony of protest from the people who voted him into office.
In the nine months since he's been sworn into office, the US lobbying industry has come to realize how serious he is regarding its suppression, so, as any wounded or backed-into-a-corner untamed beast would do, has launched a to-the-death fightback against him at every turn.
So far, they have not been able to prevail, for Obama's approval rating has been holding up extraordinarily well, what with the woeful state of the US economy. Time, therefore, will tell ---time always does--- whether the Obama era significantly dents the prestige and influence of lobbyists, but suffice it to say that our own government seems hellbent on doing its best to ensure it doesn't.
The T&T Lobbying Connection!
Twice, each year, US law requires that every lobbyist-related activity is reported via the Report of the Attorney General to the Congress of the United States on the Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act . of 1938, as amended. A perusal of past reports reveals that, since 2002, millions and millions of dollars have been expended by the Manning-led administration to engage US lobbyists who simply duplicated what the staff of the four US-based missions do ---liaise with US government and business officials to encourage greater US interest in T&T.
The principal lobbyist in the USA on behalf of the Manning administration is the US firm of Ainsley Gill and Associates, who, every three months or so, is paid around TT$2m, to...better let the report for the six months ending June 30, 2006, do the talking:
Furthermore, to arrange meetings on behalf of the foreign principal with members of Congress and congressional staffers to discuss issues of interest to the foreign principal." (See: http://www.justice.gov/
Now! Aren't those things that the at-great-cost-to-us established missions are supposed to be doing? Which begs the questions: "If the missions are not doing those things, what's the reason? And, "What are they doing?"
The situation is even more ludicrous when one looks at what another of T&T's US lobbyists did.
Between June 13 2008 and June 25 2008, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide sent out some emails to nine individuals offering to have such individuals "meet with Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Teshiera to discuss Trinidad & Tobago's International Financial Centre" ambitions. For displaying that bit of rocket-science expertise, Ogilvy reveived over TT$1.2m of our, the people's, money!
Trinidad and Tobago has to cease and desist! It is clear that no tangible benefit has been derived from the use of lobbyists in foreign countries, because, if benefits had accrued, the Manning administration would have long since trumpeted them for all to hear and see.
When President Obama came to T&T for the Fifth Summit of The Americas, our Foreign Affairs Minister, Paula Gopee-Scoon was so flushed, she couldn't restrain herself from grabbing good hold of him. But, after the pictures were snapped, she did regain her composure, then free herself of him.
It's my hope then, the above snapshot having been given of what gives in faraway lands with our, the people's, money, that she will forthwith, too, let go of every single lobbyist. It's the least any who's wowed by Obama could do to please him.