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REPRESENTATIVES from more than 70 countries were gathering in Madrid today to discuss funding of post-war Iraq amid accusations that the coalition authority in the country has failed to account for billions of dollars of oil and aid revenues.
A Christian charity claimed yesterday that failure of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to set up an independent auditing board to oversee spending had left a question mark over what had happened to up to $4 billion (?2.4 billion) that should have been spent on rebuilding the country.
The accusations were dismissed as groundless by the Foreign Office, which said all money raised by oil sales had been accounted for in the CPA?s published budgets.
The CPA also launched a spirited defence of its handling of Iraq?s finances, insisting that all money raised from oil sales and other revenue sources had been spent on reconstruction work.
A CPA spokeswoman, Karen Triggs, said: "The CPA is unequivocally committed to maintaining the highest standards of transparency and acceptability in stewarding Iraqi funds."
She said membership of an International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which would audit all spending, would be announced shortly.
Christian Aid, which published its claims to coincide with today?s conference in Spain, had claimed that the CPA was only able to account for $1 billion out of an estimated $5 billion it had received. Roger Riddell, Christian Aid?s international director, called the situation "little short of scandalous".
In its report the charity said: "What this report most shockingly reveals ... is that the billions of dollars of oil money that has already been transferred to the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority has effectively disappeared into a financial black hole."
The report?s introduction contained a thinly veiled political attack on the coalition, accusing it of leaving many of Iraq?s poorest people worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein and claiming that the "much boasted" reconstruction plans had barely begun.
Christian Aid cited a number of sources of revenue that it said remained unaccounted for, but the CPA said details of its income and expenditure were clearly set out in its budgets for 2003 and 2004, the first budgets published in Iraq since the late 1970.
The charity later admitted it had no evidence that the money had been misspent and a spokesman said it had based some of its figures on estimates. The spokesman also said the charity had been unable to speak to CPA members to clarify the financial situation.
Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and the US president, George Bush, last week won a new UN resolution calling for international contributions of money and troops, with donations expected to go into a new fund overseen by the UN and the World Bank. The cost of rebuilding Iraq has been estimated at $55 billion over the next three years.
But mixed news for the coalition was expected from governments expected to attend the two-day Madrid conference. Kuwait said it would offer generous aid to Iraq to support its postwar reconstruction
but France and Germany said they had no intention of coming up with any extra cash. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said the question of Iraqi sovereignty had to be resolved to enable the reconstruction process to begin.
Germany?s development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, said Germany could not afford to provide any more money on top of the $224 million it had promised. Germany also refused to cancel Iraq?s debts, insisting that such an oil-rich country can easily afford to pay back the $4.6 billion it owes.
The United States hopes it can persuade the countries attending the conference to come up with $36 billion in aid. John Negroponte, the US envoy to the United Nations, said: "What?s important at the moment is that the economy be jump-started, because it?s flat on its back."
Japan has pledged $1.5 billion for 2004; South Korea has agreed to $200 million, and Canada has offered $150 million. The World Bank has said it will lend Iraq up to $5 billion over the coming five years. Britain has pledged $439 million for 2004-5, but the European Union has limited its contribution for Iraq to one year, promising just $233 million.
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