Thursday, March 12, 2009

Maliki Says More Transparency Needed But Takes No Responsibility For Corruption

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently met with the heads of satellite TV stations working in Iraq and talked to them about fighting corruption. Maliki said that the government needs greater transparency for its finances, a call that has been echoed by the main anti-corruption body the Integrity Committee. In February 2009 Judge Rahim al-Ogaili, the head of the Committee said that parliament needed to pass new anti-corruption legislation. He called for a law that would make officials disclose their finances if they had unusual amounts of money. Until then, there is Integrity Committee Law No. 55 that requires high-ranking officers to turn their financial records over to the Committee. Maliki just turned over his, the first time a prime minister had done so, along with 17 other high officials. More importantly, Judge al-Ogaili said his Committee is pushing for the end of Article 136 that requires ministers to okay any prosecutions of their workers. This has given ministers near veto power over any corruption investigation.

At the same meeting with TV heads, Maliki said that the corruption found in Iraq was due to Saddam. It’s true that there was a lot of theft and graft under the former regime. For example the United Nations’ Oil For Food program led to vast criminality. From officials and reports however, Iraq may now be even more corrupt. 2008 was supposed to be the year of fighting corruption, yet nothing happened according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Ministry of Trade that runs the food ration system created by the Oil For Food program is still suspected of smuggling. Parliament’s Committee for Integrity has called for the ministry to be investigated, but Maliki has done nothing about it. The Prime Minister has also been accused of undermining the Integrity Committee when it was headed by Judge Rati al-Rathi, Judge al-Ogaili’s predecessor.

It’s important that the Prime Minister and other officials disclose their financial statements, and it’s equally good that the Integrity Committee wants to end the control of the ministers over prosecutions. At the same time, both Maliki and Judge al-Rathi seem to be driven by protecting Iraq’s image, rather than actually fighting corruption. Judge Rathi for one has said that corruption gives Iraq a bad image that deters foreign investment. His solution was to not talk about the problem. Maliki has blamed Saddam’s era before for graft. In doing so, he is denying responsibility for corruption in his own government. The Prime Minister also has a record for interfering in and stopping investigations into officials. Getting rid of Article 136 would be a huge step towards giving Iraq’s anti-corruption agencies the power to look into cases. At the same time, until the attitudes of those at the top change, there will probably be no increase in prosecutions.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Maliki: Government seeks to fight corruption,” 3/11/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq among countries with highest levels of corruption – report,” 9/23/08

Brinkley, Joel, “Iraq quietly tackles rampant corruption,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/09

al-Fadhily, Ali and Jamail, Dahr, “Corruption eats into Iraq food rations,” Middle East Online, 5/12/08

Flahert, Anne, “Ex-officials: Bush admin. ignored Iraq corruption,” Associated Press, 5/13/08

Human Rights Watch, “The Quality of Justice, Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” December 2008

Lynch, Colum, “Oil-for-Food Panel Rebukes Annan, Cites Corruption,” Washington Post, 9/8/05

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraq Seeks Financial Disclosure Law To Fight Corruption,” 2/21/09
- “Iraqi Officials Declare Financial Assets,” 3/5/09

Rosett, Claudia, “Iraq and the Importance of the U.N.’s Oil-food-Food Scandal,” Middle East Forum, 5/3/05

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09

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