Breaking the Bank
This piece first aired in August, 2010, as part of the show, “State of Privilege”
- Host Intro : Iraqi’s have little confidence in their government, and rightly so. Electricity is extremely unreliable, food rations are often delayed or don’t arrive at all and security in the country is such that many feel unsafe venturing outside their home. The one thing, however, the government has had no problem doing is providing themselves pay raises and benefits especially top officials. Kyle Crawford has the story.
KYLE CRAWFORD: In Iraq, parliamentarians earn about 40 times more than the average person and the highest earning politicians like President Talabani and Prime Minister Maliki earn close to 200 times this amount. This compared to the United States where a member of the House earns 6 times more than the average American. A ears explains that most Iraqi politicians are out of touch and only care about their personal interests. The journalist preferred we use the name Mohammed Abbas to protect his identity.
MOHAMMED ABBAS: Iraqi politicians think that a magic power has granted them a high position that will secure their personal interests, regardless of the needs of the Iraqi people.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Apart from their salary which is $130,000 dollars a year, each parliamentarian that sits in the national assembly receives a wide array of other benefits. They have a budget for 30 bodyguards, armoured vehicles and according to the Wall Street Journal, access to preferential loans with relaxed payment plans. In retirement, politicians receive a pension of 80% of their salary and they have access to diplomatic passports for themselves and their family for ten years.
Abbas explains that while politicians are busy feeding their own interests they have no conception of what life is like for most Iraqi’s
MOHAMMED ABBAS: The Member of Parliament doesn’t know what ordinary people eat, what they wear, what they get every month, how do they go to school, and get medical care. the parliamentarians are only concerned about buying voters to maintain their seats, and how to improve their life and insure their interests.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Many politicians argue that their large salaries and benefits are compensation for the risks they face. They claim that being a politician makes one a target for violence. Abbas explains that this is just not the case.
MOHAMMED ABBAS: This is absolutely absurd and I’ll tell you why. Every parliamentarian, or minister has barricaded himself. He is rarely exposed to threats and this only happens when he attempts to visit family or go visit some place…Iraqi politicians are secured in the green zone, in the same complex where Saddam’s former officials used to live…I know one Minister who cannot stand staying inside Iraq for more than 2 or 3 days…What dangers are these people talking about?…The notion that these politicians get higher salaries because they take big risks is absurd.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Shatha Al-Musawi, who served in parliament from 2006 until this year believes that the salaries and benefits politicians receive are too high. And even though her home was bombed she thinks that the number of bodyguards parliamentarians are provided is too great.
SHATHA AL-MUSAWI: It is very very limited situation where we benefit my bodyguards. In fact I use them like employees rather than bodyguards. I dont think we need this large number of bodyguards. I think maybe 10 is a good number.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Musawi sees Iraq’s new wave of politicians as just as bad as the politicians who worked during Saddam Hussein’s rule.
SHATHA AL-MUSAWI: Let me say what happens is that a new class is rising. This is a class of lets say politicians new politicians just to fill the gap. Just to replace the corrupt politicians in Saddam’s period. It is the same…they are just doing the same things. I don’t see any change. I don’t see any change.
KYLE CRAWFORD: The Iraqi constitution stipulates that the salaries and benefits of all Iraqi politicians must be clearly defined and publicly released. It was only recently that this happened for parliamentarians. However, when it comes to top Iraqi politicians transparency is nonexistent.
SHATHA AL-MUSAWI: The presidency, the prime ministers and the ministers they don’t have anything defining their benefits or what they can get. Only the parliament has this and the one issued by the parliament is a really bad one.
KYLE CRAWFORD: According to Musawi, the Prime Minister receives about $450,000 a year. But this is only part of his income.
SHATHA AL-MUSAWI: But he has extra lets say amount which nobody knows how much. He has the authority to give himself or others whatever amount of money he likes.
There is also the same issue for the president. For the president we don’t know even exactly his salary. We don’t know even how much is the salary of the president and his two vice presidents. No we don’t know. We are not sure.
KYLE CRAWFORD: This is not the only violation of the Constitution. Abbas explains the constitution was written to ensure the separation of the branches of government. But, in the current political impasse parliamentarians are holding office in both the legislative and executive branches. More than 5 of Iraq’s top officials occupy both branches.
MOHAMMED ABBAS: one cannot hold two positions, like a minister who also has a seat in the Parliament. if he becomes a minister, he has to vacate his seat in Parliament. they cannot hold two positions, this is against the Constitution which these politicians wrote themselves. but really, anything is possible in Iraq, ..the iraqi constitution has become a toy in the hands of the politicians, they move it left and right as they please.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Shatha Al-Musawi chose not to run for parliament again because she had had enough with the government.
SHATHA AL-MUSAWI: I made my decision not to join this political process as long as this corruption and the situation is the same. i cant be part of what is happening now. i don’t like to be a part of this.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Iraqis will likely continue to have little faith in their government and this lack of confidence will grow unless politicians show that they can pass legislation that will improve the lives of Iraqis and cut down on the preferential treatment they provide themselves. For War News Radio, I’m Kyle Crawford.