The government of the Maldives has hired a second public relations firm London-based BTP Advisers, the Maldives Independent can reveal.
The hiring of BTP Advisers, whose clients have included the governments of Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Kenya and Azerbaijan, follows the engagement of US-based lobby firm Podesta Group, which was employed for a sum of US$300,000 for six months.
The government had also previously contracted Omnia Strategy, a London-based public relations and legal firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to respond to the UN on former president Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment.
The fee for Omnia Strategy has not been disclosed, but the Maldives Independent can reveal the government spent a total of MVR 297,510.88 (US$19,293.83) on visits by Omnia Strategy’s barrister, Toby Cadman, between June and September.
According to documents obtained by this paper, some US$10,000 was spent on flight tickets alone, and US$1762 was spent on a press conference in Geneva.
Some US$1540 was spent on Cadman’s food at Malé’s Hotel Jen during the period, June 23 – 27, alone.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesman, declined to comment.
The Maldives Independent was awaiting comment from the foreign ministry at the time of going to press.
While it is not clear when BTP Advisers was hired, the Maldives Independent understands the firm was involved in setting up interviews for Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon with the international press, following President Abdulla Yameen’s declaration of a state of emergency on November 4.
According to an undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, BTP’s public relations work involved setting up websites to attack critics of their clients.
The hiring of BTP comes at a time the government is facing increasing criticism over a deteriorating human rights record and the jailing of opponents, including Nasheed, whose imprisonment the UN has called arbitrary.
Former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan also hired US-based public relations agency Ruder Finn in a deal worth up wards of US$150,000 in the aftermath of Nasheed’s controversial ouster.
Dunya’s father, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, commissioned New York headquartered Hill and Knowlton in 2003, which went on to recommend and in some cases implement most of the pre-2008 democratic reforms in the Maldives.