The U.S. government recently awarded a batch of contracts worth up to $300 million to Palestinian construction companies, including a firm targeted in a Palestinian Authority corruption probe.
PA Prosecutor-General Ahmed al-Mughni, likewise, survived the investigation, having escaped a car-bomb assassination attempt related to his probe of Tarifi Contracting & Reconstruction Co., other companies and PA officials, the Jerusalem Post reported at the time.
The chairman of Tarifi Contracting is H. E. Jamil Al Tarifi, the former PA civil affairs minister. At the time of the investigation, he reportedly co-owned the firm with his brother, Jamal, who currently is not listed on the company roster. Neither man was implicated in the assassination attempt.
The Tarifi organization had come under fire for indirectly selling tens of thousands of tons of cement that the Israelis ultimately used in building the West Bank separation wall and settlements there and in Gaza. PA officials also were investigated for failing to collect taxes on the sale and import of the cement, which came from Egypt.
Now the Obama administration, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, has awarded indefinite quantity contracts, or IQCs, to the Tarifi Company and five other Palestinian firms, according to procurement documents WND located via routine database research.
Noticeably absent, however, from the contract award, No. AID-294-I-13-00004, is a company name.
Filling the space adjacent to “Contractor Awarded Name” – a line item contained in all awards listed in the FedBizOpps database – was a duplicated award number.
Despite the omission, the document included a contractor-registration “DUNS number,” which WND tracked to the Tarifi Company.
The Palestinian Legislative Council, in response to the PA controversy involving Tarifi Contracting “concluded that the cement scandal went against PA objectives by indirectly contributing to the separation barrier,” according to Issam Abu Issa, former chairman of the Palestine International Bank.
Since the Palestinians at the time operated “under annual cement importation quotas, PA officials’ greed undercut the Palestinian construction sector,” Abu Issa wrote in a Middle East Quarterly column titled “Arafat’s Swiss Bank Account.”
“The PLC passed the report to the district attorney, but no action has yet been taken,” he said in the 2004 column. “Few Palestinians expect that action will be taken.”
There is no indication that formal, prosecutorial action ever was taken, based on an exhaustive Internet search by WND.
The USAID Local Construction Project, or LCP, requires that awards solely are given to local contractors, thereby excluding the participation of U.S. vendors, as WND reported last year when the agency unveiled its plan.
LCP at the same time also explicitly forbids the transfer of funds to PA-owned or controlled entities.
The restriction apparently does not extend to Jamil Al Tarifi, who no longer serves as PA civil affairs minister.
Osaily Trading Contracting Co., owned by Khaled Zuhair Osaily, mayor of Hebron municipality, likewise was deemed eligible for an LCP contract.
Awarding non-competitive contracts that explicitly exclude the participation of U.S. and other non-Palestinian companies is in the long-term interests of the U.S. government, according to a Justification and Approval for Other Than Full and Open Competition, or J&A, document.
Despite “U.S. firms’ overall greater capacity and experience as prime contractors,” the project’s no-compete requirement helps fulfill the Obama administration’s long-term goal of contributing to the sustained viability of donor-nation companies, the document says.
“Furthermore, the award of the IQCs will increase private sector capacity of construction firms in the West Bank … and in turn create a more sustainable infrastructure industry.”
In support of the administration’s USAID Forward reform agenda, the intentional limiting of competition will enable Palestinian construction firms, “who already possess sufficient technical capacity, to increase their capacity … improving their competitiveness on both a local and global scale.”
These companies will be placed, however, under the guidance of a “qualified engineering firm.” In a past project that also included a local-contractor mandate, CH2MHill, a U.S. engineering company, “provided the required construction management services.”
Specific to LCP, the agency also selected Skills and Quality Construction Company, owned by Palestinian businessman Suhail H. Saqqa, via contract award No. AID-294-I-13-00005.
A separate contract, award No. AID-294-I-13-00002, was given to Saqqa and Khoudary Co. Ltd., which Saqqa had co-founded with board chairman Jawdat el Khoudary.
The New York Times last year featured Khoudary in an article “As Bombs Fell in Gaza, a Rich Cactus Lover Could Cultivate Only Patience,” describing him as “one of Gaza’s wealthiest men, and one of its boldest dreamers.”
The Times piece also said that while he may not “agree with a lot of Hamas ideas,” Khoudary thought that “Hamas, the Islamic party that has ruled here since 2007 after winning elections the year before, prosecuted this round of fighting well, with its rockets reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
Arab Brothers Construction and Infrastructure also secured an award, No. AID-294-I-13-00003, in the endeavor. It remains unclear, however, who owns Arab Brothers, as the company website does not provide ownership or management information.
Technical Group Company for General Contracting, formerly known as Mohammad Faris for Contracting, likewise gained a spot as an LCP vendor via contract award No. AID-294-I-13-00007.
Similar to Arab Brothers, the company website offered no information about its owners or management team. The staff section of the webpage, however, includes directions for a webmaster to insert “some basic information about company staff.”
“In this place you write some basic information. Like a small paragraph.”
The LCP initiative is the latest of several programs that the USAID Mission to West Bank and Gaza has pursued in recent years, adding to a $3.5 billion portfolio of initiatives that the agency has financed since 1995.
In early 2012, USAID handed out the first round of awards in a separate Palestinian infrastructure project worth upwards of $750 million. Unlike LCP, the Infrastructure Needs Project Phase II enabled multiple U.S. companies to secure construction contracts.
USAID also unveiled a project to “fix” the PA, as WND reported, embarking upon a search for contractors to help the Palestinians to enact laws competently and create good policies governing public services.
The continuing assistance from the U.S. government additionally ties into the Obama administration’s efforts to promote the U.S. role in financing “Palestinian development and building the future Palestinian state.”
As WND also reported, Obama, through USAID, launched a media- and public-outreach program to improve Palestinian opinion of U.S. policy, an effort designed to help secure Obama a place in history for bringing statehood a step closer to reality.
Obama’s FY 2014 request seeks $440 million for the West Bank/Gaza.