Business News of Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Source: LA Times (modified for GHP)

Ghana pays $300,000-a-year to "Mother of AGOA"

A high-level United States government executive and architect of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) landmark trade law is now charging Ghana $300,000-a-year fee to consult on the same law.

Rosa Whitaker, who left her government position for a lucrative job in the private sector, signed the $300,000 contract with Ghana, last March, according to her foreign agent disclosure report.

While at the trade representative's office, she had helped Ghana become the second African country to sign a special trade and investment framework agreement with the United States. The deal, signed in 1999, aimed to reduce trade barriers.

At an awards dinner in the U.S. in 2001, Ghana's vice president lauded Whitaker for leading the charge on AGOA. She traveled to Ghana most recently in July 2002 as part of a U.S. delegation taking part in a seminar on the trade act.

Whitaker stands out as an example of why Washington officials are increasingly debating what constitutes a conflict of interest in such comings and goings.

Whitaker set up the first in a series of business relationships with African leaders and countries while still working as the U.S. trade representative's top official for Africa, according to sources, correspondence and other documents obtained by The LA Times.

After assisting a Nigerian governor with a trade program, Whitaker launched plans to create a private foundation with him once she left the government, the records show.

The incorporation papers for their organization, designed to attract foreign investment to his state, were signed on the day she left her job.

And within weeks, she had opened her own consulting firm that was to receive a management fee to run the new organization, according to documents provided by a source familiar with the transaction.

The arrangement with the Nigerian official was just the beginning for Whitaker, who had been the architect of a landmark trade law that eliminated U.S. duties on billions of dollars of selected African exports.

Six days after she left the trade office, she received a free round-trip ticket from the Ugandan government. Her consulting firm soon landed a $300,000-a-year contract under which she advised Uganda on how to benefit from the trade law she helped write.

By March, she had signed the contract with Ghana, also for $300,000 a year, to consult on the law, known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

"It looks like she's trading off on her expertise and credentials in a really blatant way," said Larry Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington watchdog group.

Whitaker said her private pursuits were aboveboard and approved in advance by the trade representative's office. "It's not a conflict to work in government and then come out and work on similar initiatives," she said.

She said she did not discuss the consulting contracts with Ugandan, Ghanaian or any other African officials until after she left office.

Whitaker left the US government Dec. 20, 2002, to form the Whitaker Group, a private consulting firm that builds on her expertise on AGOA.

"The core of TWG's business is making sure the African Growth and Opportunity Act delivers real, bottom-line results," says the company website, which features pictures of Whitaker with presidents Bush and Clinton.
Andrew Melrose, a Whitaker Group employee until December, said a number of other African countries was considering hiring Whitaker. "The Africa field is very small," he said. "There are very few experts who can deliver what she can."