Defending the approach to tendering eight contracts announced in the reconstruction programme, Natsios said USAID used a fast-track process to identify firms to be invited to bid. ‘Naturally, the USAID issued invitations for bids (known as Requests for Proposals or RFPs) to multinational firms with a proven track record of tackling major reconstruction projects in post-conflict countries such as Bosnia and Haiti,’ he said in the article published in the USA Today newspaper. ‘And since the war in Iraq had not yet begun or is still underway, RFPs went to firms with security clearances. These steps were not only legal, but they also showed common sense. We want to quickly show the world — especially Muslim countries — that we care about the Iraqi people and are ready to use our tax dollars to improve their lives.’

‘Critics have implied that inviting only the big firms to compete for each contract is a sign of cronyism or favouritism,’ Natsios added. ‘This is far from the truth. If you need a surgeon, a law service, a real estate agent or a college, you seek out the names with the reputation for quality and the ability to get the job done. That is what the USAID has done.’

‘Some countries have complained that they were not invited to bid for these projects, which are funded by US taxpayers. Yet, ironically, foreign aid agencies in most countries try to award contracts to their own companies, supporting business at home while delivering assistance abroad — just as Americans want to see their tax dollars support jobs at home.’

Natsios said no one company is big enough to do these jobs on its own. Two of the eight contracts have been awarded. Natsios said the estimated $600 million physical reconstruction contract could be awarded in the first week of April. Bechteland a group led by Fluor Daniel are believed to be the contenders for the job.