Comment: Open letter to Ruder Finn

The following open letter was sent by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla, also a member of the IPU’s Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, to Emmanuel Tchividjian, Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer at US public relations firm Ruder Finn. The company recently won a three-month contract to represent the Maldivian government.

Dear Mr Tchividjian,

On 7th February 2012, elements of the police and army loyal to the former autocratic leader of the Maldives, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, threatened the democratically-elected President of the country, H.E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, his family and his supporters with physical harm unless he resigned by a certain time that day. Those elements of the police and army then escorted President Nasheed to the President’s Office and stood over him as he wrote a ‘resignation’ letter, while others forcibly took control of the country’s main television station. A new Government has since been constituted, dominated by allies of former President Gayoom – even though the country clearly rejected him and his thirty-year dictatorship through the ballot box in the 2008 presidential election.

As a member of the governing council and the Women’s Wing of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and an elected representative, I am therefore writing to express our surprise and disappointment that Ruder Finn decided to tender for and sign a contract with this clearly undemocratic and illegitimate government, a contract under which you will be asked to act as public apologist and public advocate.

We note that you claim to be Ruder Finn’s ‘Ethics’ Officer and that you once argued in an interview that “ethics is essentially an issue of values”. We put it to you however that both you and Ruder Finn, by accepting this contract, have demonstrated a complete lack of both values and ethics.

You justify your decision on ‘ethical’ grounds by saying that you have studied the “complex political situation” and have concluded that the current government is legitimate according to the country’s constitution but that if the National Commission of Inquiry determines that the government came to power illegally you will resign the contract. This position is so riddled with contradictions that it is difficult not to conclude that your ‘ethical’ analysis is nothing more than a fig leaf disguising a policy of ‘profit-at-any-cost’.

How can Ruder Finn have determined that the government is constitutional and legitimate when the national mechanism established to answer that very question, the NCI, has not yet presented its findings? Do you have the power of foresight?

Having already prejudged the conclusions of the NCI, you then claim Ruder Finn will resign the contract if the NCI demonstrates foul play. And yet if you had indeed “closely examined” the complex situation you would know that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Maldives’ largest political party – the MDP, and the country’s civil society have all stated that the NCI, chaired by President Gayoom’s former Minister of Defence, is neither independent nor credible.

Also in interview, you have argued that “the starting point of using one’s values to make an ethical choice is, one would presume, to have a clear and accurate understanding of the facts”. If this is the case, one wonders which facts you are basing your ethical choices on. You are the only organisation outside the Maldives, which has already decided that the current government is legitimate. Both the Commonwealth and the European Union, the two organisations most closely following events in the Maldives have both said the opposite – that there are clear questions marks over the legitimacy of this government and it can only demonstrate its legitimacy through an independent and impartial national commission of inquiry, and through early elections. Does Ruder Finn have a political analysis capability greater than that of the Commonwealth and the EU?

Which brings me to perhaps the most damning indictment of your company and your claim to conduct “ethical public relations” – that in your public statements on this issue you have knowingly issued untruths and sought to mislead. You claim in your interview with the Holmes Report on 27th April that “accusations of a coup have been dismissed from many international organizations and governments, including the United Kingdom government who has said that they do not recognize the transfer of power in the Maldives to be a coup”. Yet this is a clear misrepresentation of the position of the UK and the European Union, both of which have consistently made clear that there are serious questions about the legitimacy of this government and thus (taken from a Declaration by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on 22nd February 2012 ): “The EU is of the view that the legitimacy and legality of the transfer of presidential power in the Maldives should be determined by an impartial, independent investigation as agreed by all parties in the Maldives”. Both the EU and the Commonwealth – which is working in close cooperation with the United Nations on this issue – have also clearly said that in the medium-term legitimacy can only be conferred through a popular vote expressed through early elections in 2012.

Thus one can only conclude that, if ethical public relations is indeed a case of having a clear and accurate understanding of the facts, and then applying one’s values, it would seem that Ruder Finn practices a deeply unethical form of public relations because you lack a clear grasp of the facts, and, it would seem, have no values beyond a wish to make money.

On this point, it has been reported that your contract with the current government is worth almost $150,000 a month ($1,800,000 or Maldivian Rufiyaa 28 million annually). To provide you with some “clear and accurate facts.” If in the Maldives:

  • N. Milandhoo sewerage project = 29.9 million MRF
  • N. Magoodhoo harbour project = 18.8 million MRF
  • One government built housing unit in Ga. Kolamaafushi = 1 million MRF
  • Aasandha health insurance premium per person = 2650 MRF

The Ruder Finn contract, per annum, with the current Maldivian regime is then equivalent to:

  • A sewerage project
  • A harbour project
  • 28 government built housing units,
  • Aasandha health insurance premium for 10,473 citizens (the same health insurance scheme the current regime has announced scaling back, claiming lack of funds).

I invite you to apply your ‘values’ to these facts and to reach an ‘ethical’ conclusion.

Finally, I would like to remind you that while you are fortunate, in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to enjoy stable democracies which allow for the full enjoyment of human rights, with those rights come certain duties and responsibilities. Among those duties, I would hope, is to use your freedoms to promote the rights of other people in other countries and not knowingly work towards the suppression of those rights. President Gayoom presided over extrajudicial killings in our jails, and over hundreds of documented cases of torture. Since the overthrow of President Nasheed, cases of Police brutality have again begun to resurface – including against Members of Parliament (cases have been lodged with the Inter-Parliamentary Union), as have cases of State-sponsored sexual and gender-based violence against women, arbitrary detention and police brutality. Ruder Finn has now unwittingly made itself a vehicle through which he and his associates are defying the democratic right of people in the Maldives to choose their government and are instead reasserting the old autocracy.

If you continue down this path, then you will be party to one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on the people of the Maldives. It is difficult to understand how Ruder Finn or you personally would be able to call such a choice “ethical”. We also wonder whether your corporate clients, such as Israeli Airline El Al (which Members of Parliament of the current regime voted to ban from landing in the Maldives) Reuters, Acca, Lexus, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Ricoh, Michelin, Four Seasons, Johnson & Johnson, Manpower, would be able to understand.

Yours sincerely,

Eva Abdulla

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