Saturday, December 27, 2003

Where is the money in Iraq reconstruction? 

Surprise! Nobody really knows.

Jackie Spinner and Arianna Cha of WaPo give the details.

The board is appointed by Bremer and has only one Iraqi member, who hardly ever shows up:

The 11-member Program Review Board, a mini-Congress of sorts for the occupation government in its power to allocate money. The board -- comprising mostly Americans, Britons and Australians -- was appointed by L. Paul Bremer, the top administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority. ... There is only one Iraqi member, Finance Minister Kamil Mubdir Gailani. According to minutes from 20 meetings from Aug. 12 to Nov. 8, he attended just one session. The CPA said it is working "to better accommodate everyone's schedule."

Right. "Scheduling conflicts." How odd, since the board controls a lot of money, including Iraqi money.

It uses Iraqi money that includes oil revenue and seized assets from the Hussein era to pay for projects not anticipated by the country's budget. So far the board has approved more than $4 billion in such spending.

Meanwhile, the legal status of the PRB is so unclear that no agencies have agreed to review it.

The occupation authority's legal standing has led to some confusion. For example, the General Accounting Office, which reviews federal contract disputes, said that because the CPA isn't a federal agency it wasn't sure it had the authority to review a protest lodged by a company that lost a bid for a reconstruction contract. The Pentagon inspector general, looking at the same issue, dropped it for the same reason.

No announcements are made of when contracts are awarded, and no minutes are available.

Meetings of the review board aren't public and there are no transcripts. Abbreviated minutes of meetings since August have been posted on the Internet, but they do not include information on more than 200 projects approved from May to mid-August. There's no description of the discussions leading to a decision.

FInally, the process is politically wired.

Getting an audience before the Program Review Board often requires a confluence of good luck and good connections. There are thousands of proposals floating around, but only a few of them are seen by the board.

Let's review: an appointed board, spending Iraqi money (but without Iraqis present), no audits, no minutes, and you have to know someone to get a seat at the table!

A typical example of Bush crony capitalism!

The PRB looks like a real candidate for a full-up Where is the money analysis. In our system, whenever there's no accountability, you get slush funds, money laundering, Iran-Contra...

NOTE: Kudos to WaPo for allowing some real reporting to be done on this explosive subject.

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