1 November 2007 Edition

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International : Private military companies fleece taxpayers

Privateers profit from Iraq chaos

BY SALLY GALLAGHER

THE NEO-CONS all over the world are obsessed by privatisation — in America’s case, even when it comes to waging war. And even though it doesn’t deliver what the pencil pushers and accountants claim it does, which is supposedly manage money and services more effectively.
As Californians deal with the devastation of the forest fires that their National Guard reservists could have helped tackle if they weren’t occupying Iraq, the US State Department has so badly managed a $1.2 billion contract for Iraqi police training by private contractors DynCorp that it can’t tell what it got for the taxpayers’ money it’s spent. And DynCorp is being touted in some quarters as a replacement for the private military company, Blackwater USA, whose private army is being investigated for the indiscriminate killing and wounding of dozens of Iraqi civilians.
The Iraqi police training contract had been awarded to DynCorp by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). But the INL’s failure to properly oversee the programme and invoices and records are in such a mess, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr, that it is “vulnerable to waste and fraud”.
Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, pointed out that this lack of contract monitoring is not new. “It will now take the Department of State three to five years to review invoices and demand repayment from DynCorp for unjustified expenses. This scenario is far too frequent across the federal government.”
What is more terrifying for Iraqis is that DynCorp has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Blackwater USA in the contract to provide armed security for diplomats in Iraq following a string of security incidents involving Blackwater guards, including the September shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead.

CREATIVE ACCOUNTING
Contractors’ creative accounting is not an exclusive preserve of DynCorp. Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said that Blackwater has avoided paying social security, Medicare and unemployment taxes by treating its armed guards as independent contractors and not employees while possibly evading tens of millions of dollars in federal taxes and seeking to hide its tax practices.
Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been investigating Blackwater since 2004. Waxman’s staff looked at the most recent State Department contract and estimated that between May 2006 and March 2007, Blackwater avoided paying $15.5 million in social security and Medicare taxes and $500,000 in unemployment taxes.
It remains to be seen if Blackwater bosses are more forthcoming if the company’s staff responsible for the September carnage are ever brought before a Baghdad court, as demanded by the Iraqi Government.

 

 News in Brief

Argentina elects new president


ARGENTINA’S current first lady, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has secured victory in the country’s presidential election.
She will succeed her husband, Nestor Kirchner, and become Argentina’s first elected female president.
With most of the ballots counted, Kirchner had an unassailable lead with 44.6 per cent of the votes. Her nearest rival, former law-maker Elisa Carrio, has admitted defeat, trailing on 22.6 per cent of the vote.
 

GM crops grow across EU

FIGURES published on Monday show the area planted with genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe has grown by 77 per cent since last year.
This year, more than 1,000 sq km (386 sq miles) of GM maize was harvested. The only genetically modified crop grown widely in Europe is maize resistant to the corn borer, a moth larva which eats the stem. The maize is cultivated for animal feed and not for human consumption. However, animals fed from this maize are then consumed by humans.

Somali government resigns

Prime Minister of Somalia Ali Mohamed Ghedi’s transitional government has resigned.
Ghedi has been blamed for failing to quell the Islamist insurgency in Somalia and for bringing Ethiopian troops onto Somali soil. His resignation was swiftly accepted by President Abdullahi Yusuf. The pair have had a fractured relationship fuelled by clan rivalries during the three years they have worked together in Somalia’s transitional government.

Palestinian prisoner killed by guards

A PALESTINIAN prisoner has died of wounds suffered in a riot at a jail in southern Israel.
Palestinians say that guards provoked the riot by searching sleeping quarters at night and then used unacceptably violent methods to regain control.
Israeli prison officials said the man had been hit by what they called non-lethal objects fired by guards during the riot on 22 October.

Indian farmers march for land rights

THE Indian Government says it will set up a panel on land reform to meet the demands of landless farmers and indigenous people after 25,000 protesters converged on Delhi on Sunday 28 October, demanding land reform and ownership rights laws.
The protestors say they have been left behind by India’s economic boom. They had been on a march lasting nearly four weeks.


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