Foreign advisers raking in millions

Steve Lewis

Rich contract ... rural sociologist Dr. Adiel Mbabu.  
Source: The Daily Telegraph
THEY'RE the Australian government officials you've never heard of - but most of them earn more than Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The combined salaries of a select group of AusAID-funded consultants - who offer advice to developing nations on everything from law and order to farming - totals millions of dollars a year.

Kenyan man Adiel Mbabu, who advises Papua New Guinea on farming techniques, is the recipient of one of the richest individual foreign aid contracts, worth $1.089 million.Dr Mbabu's three-year deal - which will earn him just over $350,000 annually tax-free - was awarded after an "open international tender process", according to an AusAID spokeswoman. The Kenyan adviser provides "expert independent support" to the PNG National Agriculture and Livestock Department.

He is just one consultant whose work in some of the world's poorest countries has brought personal riches.

Despite Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd vowing to crack down on highly paid advisers, Geoffrey Elvy will earn $936,091 over two years to give economics advice to PNG - nearly double the salary of Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Leslie Holland will earn $924,319 to help Vanuatu build a better transport system while Philip Warren gets $897,680 to advise the PNG government on transport.

Carey Brooker will earn $808,368 to advise on education while the recipient of the biggest individual AusAID contract - former clerk of the court John Dinsdale - has just negotiated a one-year $430,264 extension to his $1.077 million "law and justice" contract in PNG. On the eve of a government review into foreign aid - which gives the green light to increasing annual spending to about $9 billion by 2015 - the amount paid to the big three private contractors has doubled to $1.8 billion.

And the fat profits earned by Coffey International, Cardno and GRM are likely to expand further. The review, chaired by former Olympics boss Sandy Hollway, gives Australia's aid program the tick of approval and says AusAID is capable of handling a much bigger budget.

It also suggests more money be channelled into aid projects through multilateral bodies such as United Nations agencies and charities like Oxfam.

It clears the way for a big increase in aid spending in Africa, despite Australia traditionally focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian universities are also cashing in with the University of Queensland receiving $93.7 million in contracts, Australian National University $81.7 million and Melbourne University $38.5 million.

Twelve months after The Daily Telegraph first exposed the lucrative nature of AusAID contracts, the amounts earned by individuals and private firms continue to grow, triggering protests from countries such as PNG, Tonga and the Solomon Islands. But AusAID says a new adviser remuneration guideline is working.

"Since February some 52 advisers have been engaged at rates 10 to 40 per cent below that initially sought by the advisers or which would have applied previously," the spokeswoman said.

-The Daily Telegraph Sydney

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