Monday, July 05, 2004

Hey, Big Spender 

In a recent Nation piece about the Program Management Office, the agency that oversees the $18.4 billion in U.S. funds allotted by Congress to rebuild Iraq, Naomi Klein explained why jobless Iraqis have come to see the reconstruction "not as a recovery from war but as an extension of the occupation, a foreign invasion of a different sort" -- as, in short, a target:
In the run-up to the June 30 underhand (sorry, I can't bring myself to call it a "handover"), US occupation powers have been unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people. The State Department has taken $184 million earmarked for drinking water projects and moved it to the budget for the lavish new US Embassy in Saddam's former palace. Short $1 billion for the embassy, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he might have to "rob from Peter in my fiefdom to pay Paul." In fact, he is robbing Iraq's people, who, according to a recent study by Public Citizen, are facing "massive outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea, nausea and kidney stones" from drinking contaminated water.

If occupation chief Paul Bremer and his staff were capable of embarrassment, they might be a little sheepish about having spent only $3.2 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress allotted--the reason the reconstruction is so disastrously behind schedule. At first, Bremer said the money would be spent by the time Iraq was sovereign, but apparently someone had a better idea: Parcel it out over five years so Ambassador John Negroponte can use it as leverage. With $15 billion outstanding, how likely will Iraq's politicians be to refuse US demands for military bases and economic "reforms"?

Unwilling to let go of their own money, the shameless ones have had no qualms about dipping into funds belonging to Iraqis. After losing the fight to keep control of Iraq's oil money after the underhand, occupation authorities grabbed $2.5 billion of those revenues and are now spending the money on projects that are supposedly already covered by US tax dollars. . . . .
Whoa! Hold the phone. Did someone say $2.5 billion in Iraqi oil money? Well, according to Mark Matthews's story this weekend in the Baltimore Sun, that two-week-old estimate will have to be revised considerably upward -- because the CPA, in collusion with Iraqi officials, went on a last-minute spending binge just before the handover:
U.S. officials in charge of the Development Fund for Iraq drained all but $900 million from the $20 billion fund by late last month in what a watchdog group has called an "11th-hour splurge."

An international monitoring board is planning an audit of money from the fund that was spent on contracts for Iraq's reconstruction that were approved without competitive bidding.

The fund, made up largely of Iraqi oil revenue, is intended to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq. Critics have charged that U.S. officials have failed to account properly for money spent so far . . . .

U.S. authorities have not identified all the contractors hired. But they have told international monitors that some of the contracts were awarded without competitive bidding to Halliburton, the Texas-based company formerly led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Halliburton has been at the center of Pentagon and congressional inquiries . . . .

Rend al-Rahim, Iraq's chief representative in Washington, argued in a speech this week that too much money had been spent on costly infrastructure and high-tech projects that did not employ large numbers of Iraqis.

Noting that the new government "will now have a lot of authority in awarding contracts from the Development Fund for Iraq," she said it must focus on projects "that can employ tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and get money into the pockets of Iraqis and again give them a stake in the new Iraq."
UPDATE: Memo to Rend al-Rahim -- don't spend your oil revenues before they hatch.

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