Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Putrajaya renews controversial APCO contract

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — The Najib administration has renewed its contract with APCO Worldwide for another year, despite the firm’s alleged links with Israeli intelligence operatives.
Political foes have made the public relations consultancy’s work for the government a major focus point, as any link with Israelis is a taboo in Muslim majority nations.

It is understood that APCO has hired more local consultants for the new contract, which sources in the Prime Minister’s Department say is not as lucrative as the whopping RM76.8 million paid for the first year from July 15, 2009 to June 4, 2010 in exchange for its public relations services to boost Malaysia’s image internationally.

“The Najib administration has renewed its contract with APCO Worldwide for at least another year,” the government source told The Malaysian Insider.

It is understood approval in principle was given a few weeks ago, with both sides told to keep it confidential due to the opposition uproar over the firm’s links to former Israeli agents.
The source also told The Malaysian Insider that the conditions of the newly-signed contract differed from the deal.

“This time around, the agreement between APCO and Malaysia is more open-ended. Under the new deal, both sides have an option to terminate the agreement at any given time before the contract expires in approximately a year’s time,” said the source.

The Malaysian Insider understands that new APCO officials have also been appointed to oversee the terms and conditions of the newly-inked deal.

“There was general unhappiness on both sides over how the issue of APCO’s appointment had spiralled out of control with the media coverage and both parties were dissatisfied with how the issue was handled on a public relations level.

“This time around, I can say that five new APCO officials have been appointed to oversee this new agreement, and to make sure everything runs smoothly,” he added.

It is understood that one of the new key officials is the former head of external communications at the group CEO’s office of a public utility.

APCO officials based in its Singapore office have declined to comment or confirm the new deal between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s office and the firm when queried by email and phone calls from The Malaysian Insider.

“It is APCO’s policy not to discuss contracts publicly,” said a company spokesman via email to The Malaysian Insider.

The firm in Singapore is now headed by former managing director Garry Walsh, who is also global account lead for Microsoft, one of APCO’s key clients.

The government’s hiring of APCO’s services dominated the last parliamentary proceedings where Pakatan Rakyat (PR) de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had accused the global consultancy of having Zionist ties.

Anwar claimed that several prominent Israeli army officers were working as high-ranking APCO officials.

To further illustrate his point, Anwar had linked former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s One Israel campaign to Najib’s 1 Malaysia campaign, as “proof” that there was an Israeli conspiracy behind APCO.

APCO had denied its links with One Israel and said that the 1 Malaysia initiative was conceived prior to the company’s appointment.

Najib announced the 1 Malaysia concept when taking office on April 3 last year, pledging to listen to the people and declaring that “the era where the government knows best is over.”

Anwar had during the last parliamenty session, in his speech to debate the royal address questioned why Najib had engaged APCO and his allegations landed him to face the Rights and Privileges Committee after the Dewan Rakyat was not satisfied with the explanation given by the former deputy prime minister.

The committee’s investigation into the Permatang Pauh’s allegations has been postponed indefinitely.
Founded in 1984, APCO Worldwide clients include corporations and governments; industry associations and nonprofit organisations; and seven of the top 10 companies on Fortune’s Global 500. The firm is a majority women-owned business.

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