Still curious about Cameroon’s PR initiative in last week’s Washington Post (see our previous post, “Cameroon’s War on Corruption: Reality or Good PR?“), we decided to do some additional digging into the ad. Thanks to the pre-World War II-era Foreign Agents Registration Act, all foreign governments lobbying the U.S. government or seeking to influence U.S. public opinion are required to file extensive paperwork and regular reports about such activities with the U.S. Department of Justice. Far more rigorous than U.S. domestic lobbying disclosures and finally available online after years of having to camp out in an awful office on New York Avenue to access the files, here’s what we found.
Among other blue chip lobbyists and PR firms retained over the years by the government of Cameroon (Burson-Marsteller and Patton Boggs among them), we found a recent contract between the Government of Cameroon and GoodWorks International (GWI), an Atlanta-based consulting firm which provides “comprehensive range of public affairs and communications services designed to strengthen [the] presence [of developing nations] in Washington.”
Although headquartered outside of Washington, GWI is an otherwise classic “revolving door” lobbying shop: a slew of former ambassadors, executive branch officials, and even a former Prime Minister of Jamaica are among its top officials.
The GWI contract with the Cameroonian Minister of Economy and Finance, signed in July 2007, details a “strategy for securing a Compact under the Millennium Challenge Account […] in as little as 12-18 months [by raising] some of the negative indicators that now make the country ineligible.” The contract also stipulates that “GWI will assist the Cameroonian authorities to devise a communications strategy to show-case Cameroon’s reform efforts.” Now, two weeks before the contract is due to expire, with a Compact yet to be achieved, the ad appeared in last week’s Post.
A number of interesting questions come to mind. First, how common is this sort of perverse “MCC effect” among developing countries seeking big MCC dollars? Instead of comitting to genuine governance reforms, as the MCC process is intended to operate, the government of Cameroon seems more interested in influencing elite opinion in Washington as a way of moving the needle on MCC’s indicators.
A second, slightly scarier question: is Cameroon so wrong in that approach? The indicator used by the MCC to measure a country’s progress on anti-corruption has come under increasing fire in recent years as “unactionable” — in layman’s terms, there is sometimes little that a government can do to affect the scores given that the indicator is built on a messy aggregation of disparate opinion polls, expert assessments (full disclosure: including Global Integrity data), and household and firm surveys. With so much fuzzy data floating around, is it any wonder governments are turning to a far more tried and true inside-the-Beltway technique to secure MCC funding?
At a cost of “only” $350,000 a year – the price of Cameroon’s annual retainer with GWI – perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when hundreds of millions of MCC dollars are at stake.
View the GWI contract here.