Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wasit Joins Ranks Of Iraqis Not Paying New Electricity Bills

Wasit has refused to pay new power bills (Wikimedia)
The southern province of Wasit announced on January 13, 2011 that it would not be paying the Electricity Ministry’s new power bills. According to a local official, the prices were too high for many of the poor citizens of the governorate. In June 2010 the Electricity Ministry began a new program to double the costs of electricity use, and base the bills upon usage. That same month Iraqis took to the streets in spontaneous demonstrations against the lack of power. The first protests were in Basra, but then spread to Dhi Qar, Anbar, Diyala, and Wasit. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to respond, by first, firing the Electricity Minister, and then secretly ordering the Interior Ministry to ban any further outbursts. At the same time the government said that it would be unable to change the situation anytime soon.

Iraq is stuck between a rock and hard place over its power production. In the third quarter of 2010 Iraq reached a new all time high in output since the 2003 invasion at an average of 6,540 megawatts per day. However that continued to be outstripped by demand that stood at an estimated 12,605 megawatts per day for that period. After the protests Maliki said that it would take up to two years to fix the power system, while a U.S. general in charge of reconstruction projects in the Middle East speculated that it might be three. An Electricity Ministry official warned that supply might continue to increase even after the electricity supply was increased. That’s largely due to the fact that Iraqis continue to buy consumer goods such as air conditioners and refrigerators, which were limited during the decade of international sanctions.

In the meantime, with security greatly improved, services have now become the top priority for Iraqis. According to a June 2010 survey by the International Republican Institute, 66% of those polled said services were the most pressing issue facing the country. 60% nationwide felt that electricity had gotten worse over the last year, and that number went up to 68% in the southern provinces where Wasit is located.

Wasit has also not been alone. In October 2010 Karbala’s provincial council rejected the new pricing plan, saying that no one should pay them until service improved. In November, the Electricity Ministry announced that it was owed roughly $450 million in unpaid electricity bills. Iraqis hardly paid them to begin with because supply was so spotty, and the higher rates did not change their attitudes.

Iraq’s electricity network has suffered from twenty years of neglect and war. During the 1991 Gulf War, the system was extensively bombed, and has never recovered. After the 2003 invasion, the U.S. spent almost $5 billion on the industry. The supply of power has greatly improved as a result, but it has never been able to catch up with demand. The government eventually needs to institute a workable billing program that will not only generate revenues, but will also act to curb consumption. The problems with output however need to be fixed before the public is probably willing to accept any such plan. That is still years away, and until then many Iraqis won’t be paying for the service.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq unable to meet current power demand until 2013: US,” 9/7/10

Ashour, Muhammad, “electrical storm,” Niqash, 7/5/10

Al-Haffar, Hassoun, “Karbala Council rejects new electricity tariffs,” AK News, 10/26/10

Al-Hamdani, Karim, “Unpaid electricity bills in Iraq amount to more than half a billion dollars,” Azzaman, 11/15/10

International Republican Institute, “Survey of Iraqi Public Opinion, June 3 – July 3, 2010,” 9/16/10

Juhi, Bushra, “Electricity-starved Iraqis’ obsession: generators,” Associated Press, 6/26/10

Al-Shayeb, Nabil, “Wasit citizens will not pay electricity bills pending revision,” AK News, 1/13/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/10

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