A former employee of global public relations agency Hill & Knowlton, which was controversially contracted by the former government to improve its international image, continues to work for the government in its Geneva office.
In a previous interview with Minivan News, Independent MP and former Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said the PR firm was hired to respond to the allegations of human rights abuses promulgated by the MDP.
He also said that while he believed it had whitewashed some of the activities of the former government, its primary agenda was to encourage the government to show a more democratic face.
The PR company was also criticised for editing the statements on the country’s wikipedia entry critical of the former government, after was caught in the act by data-mining tool Wikiscanner.
Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said there “might be one staff member [from Hill & Knowlton] in Geneva who was hired by the former government.”
“Cancelling the contract was more expensive than continuing it,” Zuhair explained.
He added that this person was probably still doing PR work for the government.
Minivan News contacted the Permanent Mission of the Maldives to the United Nations in Geneva and spoke to the man in question, Mark Limon.
Limon said he finished his work for H&K nine years ago, but could not give any details of his work with the firm or with the former Maldivian government due to contractual clauses.
“I am helping as a local employee [in the Geneva Mission],” Limon said. He added that the rumours of continued links with the PR firm were “absolutely not true. There are no links or contracts at all [between the Maldivian government and Hill & Knowlton].”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed said the rumours of a Hill & Knowlton employee working for the current government were “total rubbish. There is no one from Hill & Knowlton [under the current government].”
He confirmed that Hill & Knowlton was hired by the former government in 2004 and stopped working for them in 2007, he said, noting that there were currently only two foreign nationals working in Maldivian Missions in Europe – one in Brussels and one in Geneva.
Shaheed dismissed rumours the foreign nationals were receiving an extravagant pay checks of up to ₤80,000 a year, saying that they were being paid “competitive rates, comparable to that of an ambassador.”
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said the MDP had been concerned about Hill & Knowlton’s work with the previous government, and the current government had no one from the firm working for them.
To claim otherwise was “a ridiculous suggestion”, he said.
“There are so many people inherited from the previous government. This doesn’t mean they work for Hill & Knowlton,” he said.
Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, spokesman for the former president, confirmed that the former government had terminated its contract with the firm in 2007. Rumours that a Hill & Knowlton employee was still on the government payroll were incorrect, he said.
“The gentleman in Geneva is a former employee of Hill & Knowlton, but is now working for the government,” Mundhu said.
He said Limon “still has all the skills” from his time in Hill & Knowlton and had been “instrumental” in in setting up the Mission in Geneva.