New York, New York USA – March 14, 2019: A lobbying and public relations agreement with a New York based government and public relations firm in the United States has been unilaterally cancelled by the Government of Liberia.
In an interview on Thursday with West African Journal Magazine, Mr. Ezra Friedlander, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of the Friedlander Group, disclosed that he no longer represents the Liberian Government and that his representation ended in the first quarter of 2018.
According to Mr. Friedlander, he was informed by former Liberian U.S. Ambassador Lois Brutus that the Government of Liberia was no longer interested. An agreement between the Liberian Government and the Friedlander Group was signed on February 5, 2018.
The agreement stipulated that the “ Friedlander Group will organize the establishment of the Friends of Liberia Congressional Caucus that would act as the “voice” of the nation of Liberia in coordination with the Embassy of Liberia to provide, translate and highlight the Pro-Poor Agenda of the Government of Liberia.”
Part of the effort of the lobbying agreement stated, “ It is discussed and agreed that the Caucus Chairs will extend an invitation to by the Caucus as well as facilitate an official White House invitation to President George M. Weah to visit Washington on a State, official or working visit by mid-year 2018…”
The CEO of the Friedlander Group said his organization had begun lobbying work and even established a bi-partisan group of Congressional Caucus known as “Friends of Liberia” and that a date, hall and time of the announcement of the launch was scheduled to be made in Washington DC when he received word from the Liberian Embassy to halt everything. Mr. Friedlander said it was explained to him that the decision of the Liberian Government to halt the official launch of the Caucus was due to “technical issues” such as inability of members of the Liberian Senate to attend due to visa issues in Liberia.
Influential bi-partisan members of the U.S. Congressional Caucus would have organized meetings with their Liberian counterparts, as part of the lobbying efforts which were to be undertaken by the Friedlander Group, the agreement said.
He said he was only paid $20,000 out of the $80,000 agreed payment and the Government of Liberia has refused to pay the balance after abrogating the contract. Mr. Friedlander said he decided not to pursue legal suit against the Liberian Government because of his deep admiration for the people and country.
According to the CEO of the Friedlander Group, during negotiations for the lobbying contract, former Ambassador Brutus explained that Liberia was not an affluent country and needed help on the contract fee and the two parties settled on a fee of $80,000 for the duration of the contract which was for a year and half of lobbying work beginning in 2018.
He dismissed any assertion that the contract was worth millions of dollars.
Mr. Friedlander said his firm would have engaged the U.S. Government on the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)expiration which thousands of Liberians are current facing come March 31, 2019. His firm was prepared to make the case to Congressional Caucus members to assist Liberia as part of its “moral obligation”, given the historical ties that both the U.S. and Liberia share.
He said it was his hope that the GOL would re-consider its decision to abrogate the public relations and lobbying contract and re-engage with his firm in-order to begin the process of helping Liberia reach out to influential members of Congress. According to Mr. Friedlander, this was a “missed” opportunity for Liberia.
LieThe Friedlander Group represents over a dozen profit and non for profit entities in the legislative, world, city, state and federal levels. The firm recently met in Cairo with Egyptian President and current Chairman of the African Union Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
According to the Open Secrets.org website, The Friedlander Group in 2018 raked in $71,800 with the highest income from Liberia for $40,000. Documents in the possession of West African Journal Magazine show that the Government of Liberia spent $10.29 million in 2017 and $4.5 million in 2018 on Lobbying efforts in the U.S. but it is unclear what the tangible returns were for the poor West African country for payments of such amounts.
The lack of strategic inroad in the Trump Administration explains why Liberians have been questioning the “delay” in President Weah’s official visit to the United States since his inauguration in January, 2018. Liberians and supporters of the CDC led government view such a visit as one visible signal of support for the Weah Administration.
There were several hints of pending official visit of the Liberian President to the White House last year which ultimately did not materialize and it is unclear when such a visit would occur and under what conditions.
Economic and scandalous financial challenges are now dogging the Weah Administration which is struggling to attract much needed international assistance and investors.
By Emmanuel Abalo
West African Journal Magazine