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Jagdeo says fundraising helping pay top US lobbying firm; shuts down media persistence on deal

FLASHBACK: Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo addressing a Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union meeting at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara.

General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday defended his party’s decision to hire a United States (US) public relations lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, for $34 million to make out a solid case for free and fair elections in Guyana, saying that he was not concerned at all about its blemishes.

“All the PPP wants is free and fair elections in Guyana. That’s what we’re lobbying for. It’s a shame that we have to, in the 21st century, go to Washington to lobby for free and fair elections just because of this government’s transgression—refusal to accept a no-confidence vote,” he said.

The former Guyana President said the monies to pay the firm were garnered from fundraisers and transferred through the banking system.

He eventually became agitated after journalists persisted with questions about whether he thought the PPP was getting its money’s worth and it was a good decision to hire Mercury Public Affairs which has come under the microscope in the US after one of its players, Vin Weber, disclosed his work for a Ukrainian think-tank.

“We are happy with the firm that we recruited. We are happy that they are a bipartisan firm. We are happy that this firm is effective and we believe they will get the message out to Washington which is one for free and fair elections… and we believe that with their help we can counter the lies. That’s the end of the matter. You can speculate as much as you want… We’re doing this for Guyana,” he said.

US media report that Weber did not register as a foreign agent for the government of Ukraine under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which would have required him to spell out his activity in detail, according to a Reuters review of lobbying records.

Against the background of Mercury having been fined by California’s Ethics Committee and its implication in the Robert Mueller report, Jagdeo said he had examined all of those issues and realised it was one of the company’s partners who had been implicated instead of the entity itself.  He said the fact that the company was operating in Washington shows that it is still credible.

“You all go and argue whether Trump is guilty of a probe or not. That’s your business, that’s not mine. Mine is to ensure we have free and fair elections, a fair system. That is what I’m concerned about,” Jagdeo added. He assured that the hiring of the firm was not an indictment on his party.

Jagdeo said the PPP was happy with Mercury’s credentials and the fact that it is bipartisan. “[W]e badly needed a presence in Washington because a lot of the opinions” could be tainted by lies by the governing coalition. He said unlike the Guyana government that has a diplomatic presence, his party needed to have a presence to ensure there is a balance of the views. “It is about advising on our presence in Washington and ensuring that our views are heard by the US policymakers at every level,” he said.

Mercury calls itself a high-stakes public strategy firm. The company says it provides results for the world’s most successful companies, leading advocacy groups, governments, political parties, non-governmental organisations, and prominent public and political figures.