- The controversial US company Louis Berger Group has been awarded a US$ 700 million contract for revamping infrastructure in the autonomous region of South Sudan, paid as development aid by the US government. The US contractor has been much criticised for "disastrous" infrastructure projects in other US protectorates; Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a press release sent out yesterday evening by Washington's development aid agency USAID, the US government "has awarded The Louis Berger Group a five-year contract to improve infrastructure in Southern Sudan. The contract for the Infrastructure Services Project has a US$ 700-million ceiling and will support the expansion of transportation, social, and economic infrastructure in Southern Sudan."
The contract is part of the US government's promises to aid the autonomous region of South Sudan to recover from a two-decade war with the North, while the US-backed authorities of that region try to construct an effective state administration from scratch in preparation for a referendum over independence from Sudan.
Under the new contract, Louis Berger was to "focus on transportation, urban development, water, sanitation, public buildings, energy, and natural resources," USAID announced. The programme was said to have three components: construction and repair services; supply of equipment; and "technical assistance to help build capacity in the nascent government of Southern Sudan."
Louis Berger has earlier been strongly criticised for its role in the reconstruction of other US dependencies. Especially its far-ranging operations in Afghanistan have been termed an "unmitigated disaster" by Corpwatch, a US non-profit group that monitors the behaviour of global companies on issues such as human rights, the environment and corruption.
In Afghanistan, schools built by the company were twice the cost of similar structures constructed by Japanese contractors, a Corpwatch report released in May this year said. The report further cited a road construction project overseen by Louis Berger, which had required maintenance even before completion. The report concluded that Louis Berger was "pocketing millions, and leaving behind a people increasingly frustrated and angry with the results."
The Corpwatch report however also blamed USAID for its sluggish planning, which had been an important factor behind the company's failures in Afghanistan. Further, Louis Berger had been successful in introducing a new currency in Afghanistan and in constructing the 500-kilometer Kabul-Kandahar Highway. Company officials finally rejected all accusations put forward by Corpwatch.
The US company is currently also involved in the reconstruction of transportation and communications infrastructure and the development of hospitals, schools, courts and police stations in the US dependency Iraq. In contrast to controversial US companies involved in Iraq, like Halliburton, Louis Berger is not known to be politically connected to the Bush administration.
The New Jersey-based contractor, with international infrastructure experience since the 1970s, won the South Sudan contract after presenting a bid in a USAID tender open to mostly US companies. Washington is among the main donors to the autonomous government of South Sudan, following its interest in supporting the creation of a new state independent from Khartoum.
The deal with Louis Berger was therefore hailed by USAID as a major progress for development in South Sudan. USAID's Katherine Almquist expected the programme to "lay the groundwork for real, long-lasting improvements in education, health, and economic growth in Southern Sudan."
"We welcome the opportunity to continue working closely with the government of Southern Sudan in making changes that improve the lives of Sudanese people and help secure the peace," she added.
South Sudan is USAID's largest program in Sub-Saharan Africa, totalling US$ 855 million in fiscal year 2005. In addition to the new award, USAID has spent US$ 84.2 million since fiscal year 2004 on improving infrastructure in South Sudan, including building roads, clearing landmines, and planning, mapping, and electrifying towns.
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