In August 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dismissed the Electricity Minister Shallal al-Ani for two fraudulent deals with foreign companies to build power plants. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani was then named Ani’s replacement. An official investigation was then launched, which has now implicated the deputy prime minister.
|Deputy Premier Shahristani|
In September, a special committee created to look into the corruption charges made against the Electricity Ministry said that it had evidence that Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Shahristani was involved. It said it had documents showing that he signed off on the two contracts under question. The integrity committee and fired Minister Ani made similar charges back in August. Shahristani and his State of Law party have denied that he had played any role. He was brought before parliament in August along with Electricity Ministry Ani, but refused to answer any substantive questions. For example, when he was asked what role the energy committee he heads plays he refused to say. Shahristani is supposed to be called before the legislature again now that Ramadan is over. Whether he will appear, and if his questions will be any more satisfactory is yet to be seen. Since he is such a high-level figure, and important ally of Maliki it seems unlikely that anything will come of it.
On August 24, Maliki named Shahristani the acting Electricity Minister. In 2010, he held the same post when the prime minister fired the last Minister in the wake of public protests over power shortages. Shahristani also led the charges against Minister Ani over the two problematic contracts. Since taking over the Ministry, he has promised that the country’s power problems will be solved by 2013. He stated that only a few more power plants are needed, and then demand will be met. That was disputed by a report by the International Energy Development Organization. It said that Iraq needed to spend $12 billion, and to produce 17,000 megawatts to meet future needs. The government says it only needs 12,000 megawatts. The Energy Organization also criticized Iraq for costly development projects, lacking a central power distribution system, and a private sector that would reduce costs. The special investigative committee also found problems with 17 other contracts for power plants, which will hold up the government’s plans. Iraq has struggled with its power supply since the 1991 Gulf War when the Coalition bombed most of the electricity infrastructure. After the 2003 invasion, things got worse at first, when the power system was looted and then attacked by insurgents intent upon undermining the government. Since then, the power supply has consistently increased, but so has demand. The authorities have announced one contract after another to build power plants and install generators this year, but many of them have run into difficulties. Iraq is therefore unlikely to fix this massive problem anytime soon, despite official promises.
As deputy prime minister, one of Shahristani’s main responsibilities is to oversee electricity. He, along with Maliki, scapegoated Minister Ani over the fake contracts even though Shahristani was likely involved. As a result, he took over the Electricity Ministry for the second time in two years. He continues to promise a solution to the country’s chronic power shortages just like the first time he ran the Ministry, even though it’s unlikely to happen in the near term. The only way he can escape criticism for these two moves is if another Electricity Minister is named. All the blame for the current and future failures can then be placed on him, because there’s no way Maliki will allow one of his most trusted allies to go down in a political controversy. Finding serious solutions to the power problems seems to be taking a back seat to political expediency right now.
Alsumaria News, “Oil and energy parliamentary accused Shahristani of evading the responsibility of fictitious contracts and constantly call hosted by,” 8/18/11
Ibrahim, Haider, “Corruption Charges against Electricity Minister Shahristani,” AK News, 9/17/11
- “Electricity Minister in $1.7bn fraud probe – integrity committee unconvinced,” AK News, 8/18/11
- “Parliament criticizes electricity minister for non-appearance,” AK News, 8/16/11
- “Parliament to probe Shahristani over fake contracts,” AK News, 8/29/11
National Iraqi News Agency, “Shahbandar rebuffs Sa’idi’s statements about Shahristani,” 8/15/11
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- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 22,” 9/15/11
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Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Report: Iraq needs $12bn to resolve energy crisis,” AK News, 9/18/11
- “Shahristani: electricity crisis will end in 2013,” AK News, 9/24/11
- “Shahristani named interim Electricity Minister,” AK News, 8/24/11