The U.S. government has been providing so-called foreign aid for decades, but the waste never stops. So it is in Iraq.
Provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq are scrambling to submit a large number of multimillion-dollar aid project proposals by July 15, something critics suggest will result in a rash of big construction projects they were never intended to run.
Further, they say, big-budget projects are being put forward too quickly, are too ambitious given the scheduled 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and are crowding out simpler schemes.
“Our goal is not necessarily to help [Iraqis] with building projects,” said Rick Gohde, an engineer with the Diwaniyah provincial reconstruction team, known as PRT. “We are supposed to be beyond that. We are supposed to be training them to sustain themselves as we are getting ready to leave.”
Capt. Doug Weaver, 28, a civil affairs soldier who acts as a liaison between the military and the Diwaniyah PRT, said Monday that close to $600 million of military aid funding was made available to the PRTs last month countrywide through the Commanders Emergency Relief Program, or CERP. The funds, made available by Congress, are only available through September 30 and the deadline for project proposals exceeding $1 million is next Wednesday, officials said.
Weaver, who studied industrial engineering before he deployed, identified numerous big projects in Diwaniyah vying for CERP funds, including new electrical substations ($1 million to $1.5 million), city sewers ($750,000 to $1.25 million), an agricultural school dormitory ($1.2 million), women’s centers to provide job training for divorcees and widows ($2 million), vocational schools ($500,000 each) and upgrades to Iraqi government communications networks.
Iraqi contractors will bid for the construction work, which is expected to employ more than 1,000 local laborers in Diwaniyah alone.
But Gohde said the PRTs are not supposed to be involved in the sort of “bricks and mortar” construction that most of the big budget projects involve.
In southern Afghanistan, construction projects supported by foreign aid, such as schools and medical clinics, stand as empty shells because Taliban militants have frightened students and patients away.
“There’s been some of that in this country,” Gohde said. “I’ve heard of schools being built with no furniture or teachers. There are projects that are constructed with the best of intentions that are not utilized in the original intent or utilized at all,” he said.
Oh, well. It’s only money, as they say. And with Uncle Sam running a roughly $2 trillion deficit this year, what’s a few wasted millions (or even hundreds of millions) among friends? I’m sure next time the government will get it right!