Among the risks of operating in Iraq, contracts are probably not the first thing that spring to mind — but a $51 million agreement to supply security for the Australian embassy in Baghdad is proving a headache for the foreign service.
So much so that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has sent an official, Paul Molloy, over to Baghdad to prepare a briefing for bureaucrats back home on the contract, which was won after the company significantly cut its costs.
Sources who work for the company, Dubai-based security company Unity Resources Group, told The Australian wages had been cut by 47%, leading to an exodus of experienced employees. The result appears to be a shortfall in staff and the replacement of former workers with inexperienced recruits.
The company has also reportedly attempted to reduce costs by cutting back on security clearances, issuing aged weapons, lowering fitness and weapons handling standards and reducing medical qualifications, according to whistleblowers.
Initially tender documents indicated URG had almost halved its contract price, reducing it from $101 million to $51 million over five years. But a department spokesperson said the $51 million was only for the first three years of the contract, and that take-up of the two optional one-year extensions would entail further costs. The contract entry on AusTender has been updated to state that it runs for a three-year period.
As The Australian points out, however, there is still a large difference in costs: the total of the earlier contract was $91 million for the first three years, compared to $51 million for the new one. Sources say the company is now struggling to fulfil its contract obligations for the provision of security staff at the Baghdad embassy, and that one new recruit had falsified their military or police service history, while another was a diabetic who had recently undergone chemotherapy.
Molloy is the former deputy high commissioner to Pakistan, and worked for The Sydney Morning Herald before going to work for DFAT in the mid-1980s.