US lobbying firm hired for Bangladesh polls

Brajesh Upadhyay, Washington
Published : 15:50, Sep 14, 2018 | Updated : 15:52, Sep 14, 2018

Just a few months before the general elections, a man said to be representing the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has hired a top US firm to lobby the Trump administration and enhance the party’s international outreach during the polls.
As per the documents made available by the US Department of Justice, Abdul Sattar has signed an agreement with a Washington-based firm Blue Star Strategies to “support outreach, education and communications to US officials and organisations about the Bangladesh National Party regarding the upcoming elections in Bangladesh”.
Mr Sattar, the principal signatory to the agreement, is based out of the United Kingdom and the political party’s address on the document is “Bangladesh National Party, 28, 1 VIP Rd, Dhaka-1205, Bangladesh.”
The lobbying firm is to be paid $20,000 for the first month (August, 2018) and then $35,000 for each subsequent month (September-December 2018). The monthly retainer fee is exclusive of value-added tax (VAT) and out-of-pocket business expenses, as per the contract document.
Blue Star will be supported by another Washington-based communication firm Rasky Partners Inc to carry out the task.
“Blue Star Strategies will engage in message development and narrative; outreach to elected and appointed US Executive Branch officials; outreach to US Congress; International Financial, Health, Labour, Human Rights, Women's Empowerment and Election Monitoring Organizations; Public Policy Institutions in the US; former US officials and ambassadors; the private sector and diaspora community,” says the agreement.
The firm’s website claims that Political leaders and governments from around the world “choose us to move the needle on their most significant foreign, security, and economic policy priorities”.
In its success stories, the firm lists several works including the case of a political party from an Eastern European country that had not been in government for a decade and “they feared that in this climate it would be too easy for one of the larger parties to manipulate the electoral process.”
Blue Star claims that its work ensured that key officials from around the world began to pay attention to the election and “our client received many more votes on Election Day”.
It claims that three US members of Congress and a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State flew to the country to observe the preparations for the elections and the US Senate passed a resolution acknowledging the challenges facing the election.
“We've helped political parties promote democratic institutions, candidates for office, and free and fair election campaigns,” it says.
While considered controversial by the American public, it is perfectly legal for foreign nations to influence the foreign policy of the United States through lobbying or by supporting lobbying organisations directly or indirectly. The law also ensures that the contract between foreign nations and lobbying firms is disclosed by the Department of Justice.
The current Bangladesh government, too, had hired a Washington-based lobbying group, BGR Public Relations, from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. The scope of work as mentioned in the contract was “to provide strategic public relations and government affairs counsel for the government of Bangladesh”.
The firm was paid $25,000 USD for its services, as per the Department of Justice document.