Sunday, August 31, 2003

Crony Capitalism

Seen on Atrios, this tale from an Iraqi blogger:

One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!

Which, of course, the Iraqi people will have to pay for, in oil.

This sickens me. An entire country is being forced to buy from the company store, at inflated prices, at gunpoint, for the profit of Bush's friends and political donors. When this sort of thing happened in Indonesia, the Americans called it "crony capitalism". But I guess it really depends on whose cronies they are, right?

The first action of an independent Iraqi government (assuming they are ever allowed to have one) ought to be to repudiate any debts owed for reconstruction. The above more than justifies it.