Stuart Bowen expresses concern over Iraqi budget execution, corruption
Bowen addressed members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee May 22 in a hearing entitled, “Iraq: Is Reconstruction Failing?”
“The short answer is ‘no,’ but it must be put in context," he said. "The reconstruction program in Iraq has been fraught with challenge – a mixture of success and failure.”
Bowen said the security environment remains the chief impediment to reconstruction efforts.
“This is not the Marshall Plan,” he said, referring to the reconstruction of Europe following World War II. “This is a reconstruction program conducted virtually under fire. That means every project has cost more than expected and has taken longer to complete, and a lot of projects have not been finished.”
He also identified poor coordination among U.S. government agencies as a significant problem in managing reconstruction projects. Among other things, he said, the various agencies had inconsistent and poorly managed contracting practices.
U.S. officials, Bowen said, had provided inadequate project oversight and contractors had exercised inadequate quality control.
Bowen said the reconstruction program also has suffered from the difficulty in matching qualified personnel with specific projects, and he called for the creation of a U.S. civilian reserve corps that would provide a ready pool of individuals with the skills necessary to execute post-conflict reconstruction programs in the future.
The inspector general said he sent teams to visit reconstruction projects completed more than six months ago to assess the sustainability of those efforts and found some troubling results. He pointed out specific concerns with a refurbished maternity hospital in Erbil and with the Baghdad Airport. The hospital now suffers from backed-up sewage and a broken water purification system, and the new power generators at the airport are not functioning.
Bowen said U.S. reconstruction efforts are moving away from large-scale infrastructure projects toward government capacity-building programs managed by provincial reconstruction teams and small-scale building projects funded by military commanders at the local level. This shifts the burden for capital investment to the Iraqi government, which, he said, has difficulty with budget execution.
“Last year, the Iraqi government simply did not execute its capital budget program effectively – most notably in the Ministry of Oil, arguably the most critical economic ministry. Oil generates 94 percent of Iraq’s budget, 75 percent of its GDP [gross domestic product]. And it spent a fraction, a tiny fraction of its capital budget last year,” he said.
He said the Iraqi government must address this problem if reconstruction is to continue apace.
Bowen also expressed concern with the Iraqi government’s ability to fight corruption. He said the Iraqi prime minister has prohibited the Commission on Public Integrity from prosecuting current or former ministers and that the Iraqi criminal code allows ministers to exempt any employee from prosecution. He said these limitations fundamentally undermine the commission’s ability to prosecute corruption cases. Bowen called corruption “the second insurgency,” indicating, in his view, the severity of the problem.
The full text of Bowen’s prepared statement is available on the Web site of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
For more on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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