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U.S. companies work on Haiti's recovery without contracts, hoping for payoff

Randal Perkins, the chief executive of South Florida's AshBritt, stood before Haiti's ruined National Palace — with its crumbled columns and shattered domes — watching two of his yellow excavators sift through the rubble.

It was a powerful photo-op in front of the nation's most symbolic political institution. But there was one wrinkle in the picture: AshBritt doesn't have a contract to work on the high-profile project.

More than four months after Haiti's lethal earthquake, the international commission overseeing the recovery is still mulling how to spend the $9.9 billion pledged to the nation. But U.S. contractors are diving in, making high-stakes bets that reconstruction deals will eventually bring a windfall.

Companies have spent millions moving personnel and machinery to the shattered island since the Jan. 12 earthquake. Others have started on projects despite having no formal agreements to be compensated for the work. And all are lining up political allies as they elbow for a spot at the front of the line.

That has some here worried that deep pockets and powerful interests may be warping the playing field before the business of rebuilding Haiti truly begins.

"If you are doing work with the expectation that it will turn into a contract, then you are disrupting the system," said Reginald Bolous, the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce. "We should give everyone a chance to compete for jobs -- particularly small local enterprises."

According to the Federal Procurement Database, about $93 million in U.S. government contracts have already been awarded in Haiti since the earthquake. But billions more will be poured into rebuilding roads, bridges and government offices.

The massive earthquake killed a government-estimated 300,000 people and destroyed more than 250,000 buildings -- leaving the streets clogged with about 60 million cubic meters of rubble -- enough to fill the Rose Bowl 188 times.

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