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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Iraq’s Missing Money

May 21, 2015 in Politics, Security
By Walid Khoudouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq is passing through a dangerous phase. There is a lot of waste and corruption and little transparency in state institutions. The security situation is deteriorating. And lately, there has been negative information about Iraqi officials responsible for the oil revenues during the last years. This has led to the dangerous situation that Iraq is [now] in.

It was shown that during the first week of May, the Iraqi parliament received, all at once, the final accounts of the eight years of the rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the 2006-13 period to “review and approve them.” This means that the previous years’ accounts had not been reviewed or approved. And parliament is now being asked to approve them all at once after Maliki lost the prime minister post.

The move to approve all the past years’ final accounts is considered an illegal act according to the norms of parliamentary systems and traditions. The main role of the legislative branch is to review and approve the previous year’s accounts, and then approve the new year’s budget submitted to parliament by the government or the executive branch. This is already provided for in the Iraqi constitution.

Earlier this year, parliament member Magda Tamimi declared that she was preparing studies indicating that hundreds of billions of dollars are missing from the state’s annual budgets during Maliki’s reign. Tamimi has access to state financial figures because she has been a member of the parliamentary Finance Committee during the current and previous sessions. She is conducting a study on corruption in state institutions.

 State budgets for the years between 2006 and 2013 were submitted, but not the budget for 2014. This is not strange, since the parliament at the time did not agree on the 2014 budget. And there was no budget for that year, which means that it is not possible to calculate and audit the budget of that year.

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Now there is fear that the major political blocs in parliament would agree to approve at the time all the final accounts for the past years and issue parliamentary resolutions in this regard. Sabah al-Saadi, a former member of the Parliamentary Integrity Committee, reportedly said that the budgets of the past years “have been spent but there is no reconstruction of infrastructure, no investments, no fixing of the electricity, no housing, and no solution to the water scarcity or other problems. …

The budgets that were spent from 2006 to 2012 amounted to $614 billion. That is in addition to the 2013 budget, for a total of $727 billion. This is enough money to build a completely new Iraq.” It is also noteworthy that the Iraqi parliament has failed to approve the 2014 budget and has returned it several times to the Council of Ministers to make amendments because of the presence of many irregularities.

The loss of hundreds of billions of dollars a year — in light of the extreme poverty that the country is still suffering from — is a major scandal. According to statements by current senior officials, there were many “spacemen” during Maliki’s rule. “Spacemen” are individuals that get registered as employees in the civil and military institutions but who do not show up for work or perform any work in official bodies while getting paid their monthly salaries. The top official in the state and the commander of the armed forces throughout this period was Maliki.

This information raises many questions, including: Will the chairman of the finance committee in parliament, Ahmad Chalabi, seek to obtain the approval of the parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri to start an investigation into this matter? Will the matter be discussed in public hearings of the finance committee and in the presence of media and civil society organizations?

In the absence of transparency, who is the ultimate beneficiary of these billions of dollars? Are they only Iraqi politicians, or was a large part of the money transferred to neighboring countries — especially Iran and Syria — to help those two countries bypass the international embargo imposed on them?

If the money were sent to only some politicians, this means local politicians have accumulated huge funds, which they can use in future political campaigns to return to power. If the money was transferred to neighboring countries, it means that the previous government paid for its survival throughout the period by helping Iran spread its regional influence and by helping the Syrian regime stay in power.


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