STEVE LEWIS & LISA CORNISH | News Limited Network
While critics claim the private firm are encouraging "boomerang aid'' - with well-paid consultants engaged in fly in/fly out arrangements - AusAID continues to sign lucrative contracts for these contractors to run expensive programs in some of the world's most troubled hot-spots.
AidWatch, which monitors the foreign aid program for malpractice, argues that private firms are "much less accountable'' than leading charitable organisations such as World Vision, Caritas and Oxfam who are also engaged to provide aid services.
Coffey International, a listed company which earned $213 million for the six months to December, has secured 248 AusAID contracts worth a hefty $1.61 billion since November 2007. Just a few months ago, it signed a $29 million contract to help Indonesia improve its health systems over the next five years.
And GRM International, which last August lost a lucrative Afghanistan contract following allegations of fraud, signed 256 contracts with the Government agency, worth just over $1.2 billion.
GRM, once owned by the Packer family, signed a $22 million contract to supply education services in Papua New Guinea last October.
Brisbane-based Cardno wrote 171 contracts since November 2007 with AusAID, worth $1.31 billion, according to the AusTender website.
The trio are usually engaged by AusAID as "managing contractors'' to oversee key projects in some of the world's major trouble spots - such as Afghanistan - and oversee projects in health, governance, financial management and security.
In the past they have been heavily criticised for offering inflated salaries to indivual consultants - sometimes half-a-million dollars or more in tax-free annual payments.
US-based URS ranks fourth on the AusAID contract "hit list'' with 67 contracts worth $316.9 million.
JTA International - a Brisbane-based specialist in health services - has snared 37 contracts worth $280.6 million, including a seven-year $107 million deal to try and improve "capacity building'' in Papua New Guinea.
Dr James Goodman, the chair of AidWatch, criticised the large sums paid to the private sector.
"This is an example of boomerang aid,'' Dr Goodman said, of the monies paid to private firms.
"It's like an oligopoly of private providers and when you have an oligopoly, you have malpractices,'' he said.