Ravi wades into battle over Bell Pottinger expose’


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Now that the Sri Lankan government has rejected the controversial UK headquartered PR agency, Bell Pottinger claim that it wrote President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech to the UN in September, 2010, the cash-strapped government should investigate its relationship with the firm tasked with improving the country’s image abroad, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake says.

The President’s Office Thursday night denied a recent statement attributed to David Wilson, the Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations.  Wilson is on record as having said:  "We had a team working in the President’s office. We wrote the President’s speech to the UN last year which was very well received... it went a long way to taking the country where it needed to go."

Wilson said that President Rajapaksa had chosen the company’s version of the speech in preference to one drafted by the Ministry of External Affairs.

Sri Lanka’s denial of statements attributed to Wilson comes in the wake of Lord Bell, the Chairman of Bell Pottinger’s parents group, Chime Communications publicly denouncing the Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations regarding their relationship with the government of Belarus.

The Independent, which secretly record Wilson subsequently quoted Lord Bell as having said: ``All invoices were sent to the Belarus government and all payments were received from the Belarus government. What David Wilson said was not true. I have no idea why he said it."

Responding to a query by The Sunday Island UNP National Organizer, MP Karunanayake alleged that the government had outsourced duties and responsibilities of the External Affairs Ministry at a great cost to the national economy.

The Colombo District MP recalled how the UPFA always ridiculed the Opposition, particularly the UNP for depending on foreigners, whereas the incumbent administration seemed to have outsourced key responsibilities.

Karunanayake said that he would press the government on this issue both in and out of parliament.

``What we’d like to know is whether any official or a group of officials had received benefits due to expensive contracts involving foreign PR firms. The government is squandering taxpayers’ money on propaganda while the vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet,’’ the MP said.

He attacked the UPFA over the role played by foreign PR firms in the run-up to both presidential and parliamentary polls in Jan. 2010 and April 2010, respectively.

According to him, the government had hired at least two other PR firms in the US and India. In fact, External Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris, who recently accused UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in parliament of outsourcing his responsibilities to embassies, should explain the circumstances under which BP took over some of his responsibilities.

BP’s role came to light in Dec 2009 when it issued a statement on behalf of the Sri Lankan government after the LTTE forced the Oxford Union to cancel a scheduled address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for which the government blamed UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena.

Those who had lied in parliament on behalf of BP should now explain their position with regard to the latest developments involving the UK firm, the MP said, adding that outsourcing responsibilities of the External Affairs Ministry was nothing but another lucrative deal for those making money. 

Those responsible for costly oil hedging deals, import of low quality petrol and diesel as well the multi billion rupee robbery at Sri Lanka Cricket or any other deal exposed by the Committee on Public Enterprises hadn’t been punished, the MP said.

Responding to a query, the MP said that the government should reveal the total amount of funds paid to various PR firms over the past couple of years and also explain the failure on their part to tackle growing international criticism of Sri Lanka’s conduct both post and pre-war era.

The UNPer asked whether BP and other firms had run a parallel Foreign Service in selected countries while the External Affairs Ministry played politics with the national issue.

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