Oh, I see, the problem in Iraq is too little corruption…Huh?
The New York Times has a story out today (James Glanz, ‘Iraq Is Failing to Spend Billions in Oil Revenues,’ December 11, 2006) that, for all intents and purposes, says the following:
-Many Iraqi government ministries are not spending all or even most their ‘reconstruction’ budget allocation for FY 2006.
-The Iraqi budget is flush with cash this year from oil sales, and is likely to remain so next year.
-One of the major reasons Iraqi bureaucrats are not spending their FY 2006 monies is because of stringent anti-corruption measures.
Here are my favorite bits:
But some American and Iraqi officials here are also saying that the stringent measures they had favored to slow the rampant corruption may be especially daunting for bureaucrats who have little experience with Western-style regulations and oversight. Those officials say that Iraqis who have seen their colleagues arrested and jailed in anticorruption sweeps are reluctant to put their own name on a contract.
“As it’s applied right now, this new thing scares the hell out of everybody,” one Western official here said.
The colliding priorities of oversight and spending have left American and Iraqi officials in a quandary as they work behind the scenes on the so-called “Compact with Iraq” — the centerpiece of the American Embassy’s effort to create economic and political milestones that this nation promises to meet in exchange for pledges of foreign investment and support.
Anticorruption officials themselves are facing a loss of support, with the most serious impact felt by Rathi al-Rathi, the head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity, who has been privately accused by Western and Iraqi officials of zealotry, political bias and other failings.
A previously undisclosed letter to Mr. Rathi from prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, dated Sept. 6, is close to an accusation that Mr. Rathi himself is guilty of corruption. The letter, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, directs him to account for what the prime minister asserts are hundreds of thousands of dollars of undocumented expenses by the commission.
Ali al-Shabot, a spokesman for Mr. Rathi, who was traveling last week, at first insisted that the letter was secret and that he could not discuss it. But finally he dismissed its charges as based on bad information. Mr. Shabot indicated there was at least one good reason that, despite the pressure, the commission would remain in business. He confidently pointed out that international donors who provide financing to Iraq do so “with the guarantee that there are institutions to oversee the money.”
Mr. Shahristani, the oil minister, who has put new anticorruption measures in place on top of those imposed from the outside, said the solution was to teach the bureaucrats how to cope with the new rules.
“Obviously I’ve heard of these complaints,” he said of the criticisms of the anticorruption organizations. “I don’t think that they have gone too far. I think this is necessary given the level of corruption that we have inherited.”
The public integrity commission is cited most often as intimidating. But those who deal with investigations of questionable deals and officials on the take in a historically corrupt country are not surprised by those complaints. “This is normal,” said Mr. Shabot, the integrity commission spokesman. “They hate us because we are monitoring them.”
Mr. Jabr expressed deep impatience with ministry officials who, he said, told him that part of the reason they were moving so slowing was to avoid running afoul of the integrity commission.
“I said, ‘Why are you afraid? If you are not a thief, don’t be afraid,’ ” Mr. Jabr recalled.
Analysis: According to the story, the head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity (the anti-corruption arm of the Iraqi government) Mr. Radhi al-Radhi is accused of “zealotry, political bias” and corruption. Mr. Radhi was a Communist Party member in the 1960s. He is adamantly secular and non-sectarian. Where’s the bias? Being a zealot as to how public funds are spent is a badge of honor; other governments should be so lucky as to have a public servant like Mr. al-Radhi.
Mr. al-Radhi has been accused of corruption by the man heading parliament’s Public Integrity Committee, Sheikh Sabah al-Sa’idi. The background to this is that al-Radhi is investigating several of Sheikh al-Sa’idi’s relatives in various government ministries. Many of them are members of Islamist parties, such as PM Maliki’s Da’awa Party. The deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee has come out publicly to say that al-Sa’idi’s charges against al-Radhi are personal and do not reflect the committee’s position on the work of the Public Integrity Commission or its chairman.
But this NYT story today is interesting on a multiple of levels, especially given that many commentators are painting events in Iraq as “over and done with.” Some even came out and said that “there is no functioning government south of Kurdistan.” Well clearly there is a government that seems to be extracting, transporting and selling oil and enjoying a budget windfall to boot. But it is not spending enough on reconstruction because many bureaucrats are afraid that they’d be questioned by the anti-corruption enforcers.
Iraq is also spending $6 billion dollars on a food ration card system, free health care and subsidized fuel. Every Iraqi citizen is guaranteed a monthly portion of food, medical help and a cheap fill-up. Sometimes an item like ‘tea’ may go missing from the food ration (compensated in upcoming months) and sometimes a hospital can run out of insulin. And sometimes people will have to wait for days in line to get gasoline. But the fact that they get these things most of the time is missed by many observers.
There is a state that is up and running in Iraq. Any pronouncements from NYT columnists such as Frank Rich or Bob Herbert about “losing Iraq” are not going to change that fact.
[Text of NYT story is posted in the comments section.]