American public relations firm, Ruder Finn, sent former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan an email in February 2013, complaining over a seven-month delay in payment, according to emails obtained exclusively by The Maldives Independent.
Ruder Finn was hired by Waheed’s administration to improve the Maldives’ international image in the wake of the ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations, a state-owned company at the center of a historic corruption scandal, was billed a total of US$221,826.29 for just three months of work.
One press release of just 400 words cost the Maldivian public some US$4,505.90, the emails show.
Ruder Finn was eventually paid a total of US$195,000 through the MMPRC, according to documents published online by the US government.
America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) forces governments to disclose the names of lobbyists they are employing and how much they are paying them. The disclosure forms filed by Ruder Finn corroborates the delay in payment.
In an email sent to Waheed, and copied to then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, consultant Matthew Walsh said: “I regret having to contact you as Head of State, however, Ruder Finn tried every other avenue to resolve this situation to no avail.”
According to filings with FARA, Ruder Finn’s work centered almost exclusively on public relations work for Waheed, despite the government claiming the firm was hired to “rally an alliance in support of the Maldives.”
The firm said it had developed a social media strategy for the president, advised on public relations during Waheed’s speeches at the Rio summit in Brazil, and setting up interviews for the president.
The Maldivian public was also billed for the firm’s photocopies and phone calls. A total of US$18,533.85 was charged for five press releases. These expenses were billed on top of a US$65,000 fee charged per month.
The opposition had censured Ruder Finn’s hire, saying the firm’s work in the Maldives made it party to “one of the greatest injustices inflicted on the people of the Maldives.”
A small group of Maldivians, including Waheed’s brother, staged a protest outside the firm’s London offices in July that year criticizing it for taking up the Maldives regime.
Successive governments have employed foreign PR firms at times of political crises at exorbitant prices.
President Abdulla Yameen hired last year London-based Omnia Strategy, a legal and public relations firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the widely-criticised jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Omnia was paid £420,000 or US$596,910 for six months of work. The firm came under fire last month when the UK’s Daily Mail reported that it was paid £210,000 from millions stolen from tourism leases.
Last January, local news websites Haveeru and Sun, citing leaked documents, said Nasheed had spent a total of US$185,000 on three British employees over the course of his three-year term. They were Paul Roberts, communications advisor to the president, Jude Laing, legal consultant, and Mark Lynas, climate change advisor. All were employed directly by the president’s office and worked with a Maldivian team.
Nasheed’s predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, half-brother to Yameen, had employed PR firm Hill and Knowlton at a cost of US$1.6million following popular protests against his 30-year rule.
The firm developed a map for reform that culminated in the country’s first multi-party elections that unseated Gayoom.
Link to Ruder Finn’s bill
Copy of email