Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fiji Tax Payers Pay for Sprucing Up Image of Tainted Fiji Dictatorship

Fiji hires Washington black arts company

by Michael Field

 
Qorvis Communications Paid to Spruce Up Dictatorship Image
Fiji’s military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama has hired a powerful Washington lobby firm that specialises cleaning up the international image of non-democratic regimes around the world, including those accused of extensive human rights abuses.

Qorvis Communications are charging US$40,000 (NZ$51,000) a month, plus expenses, on a one year contract signed by Fiji’s military controlled attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on October 5.

Qorvis specialises in putting a spin on dictators like those of Tunisia and Egypt who resisted Arab Spring. And when Bahrain’s rulers violently crushed an uprising and attacked hospitals, Qorvis issued press statements condemning Medecins San Frontieres when its doctors treated dissidents.

Bahrain pays Qorvis the same monthly rate Fiji is now on.

Hiring Washington spin-doctors is a well-walked road for dictators who work on their image in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, rather than make any significant change in their homeland.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a military coup in 2006, claims he will allow democratic elections in 2014 but he has already made it clear that politicians he overthrew will not be allowed back in. Bizarrely he has even said that if elections are held, no political party will be allowed to issue a manifesto.

He continues to rule Fiji under martial law which includes total media censorship.

His chief censor and spokeswoman is an Australian mother of four, Sharon Smith Johns, who was a former Fairfax Australia sales executive.

She has been silent since October when she went to China to represent Fiji at a seminar on media control in the developing world.

Neither she nor Fiji’s Ministry of Information was responded to email requests for comment.

No public announcement has been made over the Fiji-Qorvis link, but this week the Sunday Star-Times received a routine Fiji Government press statement from Qorvis’ official Sol Levine. They are also posting statements on Washington’s PR Newswire.

Other than the sender’s email address, the only clue that things have changed is in the signature: “This is distributed by Qorvis Communications, LLC on behalf of the government of Fiji. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.”

Qorvis has a unit called “GeoPolitical Solutions” and until earlier this week it had a Facebook page which showed an amateur photo taken last month of a ferry boat at a Vanua Levu jetty.

After we “Liked” the photo, a Qorvis official, Matt Lauer, sought to befriend in response.

When his link was used to seek confirmation over their new Fiji role, the QorvisGPS Facebook site was sanitized, the picture removed and access limited.

Under US Federal law companies like Qorvis have to register their foreign clients with the US Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act 1938.

Qorvis’ Fiji link was not registered earlier this week but after both Lauer and Levine were asked, the Fiji registration appeared on the registry on Friday morning (NZT).

Qorvis says in the registration it “will provide public relations services relating to business and investment to the government of Fiji”.

Also filed is a three page letter from Qorvis partner Michael Petruzzello to Sayed-Khaiyum which says the contract began on October 6 and urging monthly payments.

“Time is of the essence for the payment obligations,” Petruzzello says, laying out penalty interest for late payment.

“After we have issued material to the news media or to another third party, its use is no longer under our control,” the letter says.

“We cannot assure the use of news material by any news organization. Similarly, we cannot control the form or manner of use by the news media…”

Qorvis say they will not prepare any publicity that is untrue, indecent, libellous, unlawful “or otherwise prejudicial to your interests or ours.”

Levine, who is looking after Fiji’s affairs at Qorvis, is a former producer for CNN and Aljazeera English. He also acts for the Kurdistan Regional Government and Cyprus.

Lauer of their GPS unit lists his clients as Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Kurdistan, Cyprus and Equatorial Guinea.

Qorvis is well-known in Washington for its lobbying work for non-democratic states.

They came to prominence they signed a US$14 million a year contract to gloss over Saudi Arabia’s image after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Respected US journal Foreign Policy last year ran an investigation into Qorvis’ contract with Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

Obiang's government hired Qorvis for US$55,000 per month.

“Since then, Qorvis has emailed scores of press releases highlighting all manner of good deeds by the Obiang government: funding a program for maternal health, supporting animal conservation, congratulating an Equatorial Guinean native who was voted best high school teacher in Michigan, and perhaps most importantly, signing a $250 million contract with an American security company,” Foreign Policy reported.

David Mayorga, who represents Equatorial Guinea for Qorvis, conceded that he faced a major challenge in promoting the country's case.

"There are a million things working against them, but Equatorial Guinea wants a voice, they want a seat at the table. They feel their country's been misrepresented and they want to fix it," Mayorga told Foreign Policy.

"The only way to go about that is to demonstrate that progress and development is taking place there today. And they have not communicated that in the past."

Qorvis also acts for the Palestine Liberation Organisation controlled Palestinian Authority.

A recent Huffington Post article claimed more than a third of the partners at Qorvis had quit because of the kind of clients they were acting for.

"I just have trouble working with despotic dictators killing their own people," a former Qorvis was quoted saying.

"People don't want to be seen representing all these countries -- you take a look at the State Department's list of human rights violators and some of our clients were on there."

Qorvis’ GPS, headed by Lauer, says it is about “finding creative solutions to complicated situations to help corporations, countries and high net worth individuals manage their worldwide reputations and develop new opportunities for future generations of citizens, shareholders, and progeny”.

GPS is known to create fake blogs and websites that link back to positive content, "to make sure that no one online comes across the bad stuff," says the former insider. “Other techniques include the use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter."

On the Qorvis website Lauer says: “I do not want the world. I just want to influence it.”

11 December 2011

Qorvis-Fiji registration document


Below is the type of Dictatorships that the firm now hired by Bainimarama has worked with.

Equatorial Guinea’s PR crisis

Photo
Four months into a public relations offensive, Equatorial Guinea is still struggling to get good press.
The government of the tiny West African state, eager to shake a reputation as one of the most corrupt and repressive on the planet, hired a high-powered U.S. communications firm Qorvis in May in the hope of rebranding itself as a progressive nation and a good place to do business.

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