Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tons Of Expired Medicine Confiscated In Iraq Highlighting Institutional Corruption Within The Country

In May 2012, Iraq’s Health Ministry announced that it found several tons of expired medicine, and had closed down dozens of unlicensed pharmacies across the country over the last several months. What was not reported was that the Ministry itself was probably responsible for these problems. Due to rampant corruption throughout the government, bureaucracies regularly buy cheap imports rather than high quality goods, because money is being skimmed from the contracts. Not only that, but they often use middlemen connected to Iraqi politicians and high officials who take their share as well. The result is that Iraq is awash in low quality products that often cheat the public.

On May 14, 2012, it was reported that the Health Ministry had clamped down on a series of pharmacies that had bad medicine. Around one hundred unlicensed businesses were shut down in April, and four tons of expired medicine was confiscated in the process. That followed another 200 closings the previous month, and another six tons of bad products being destroyed. This was just not an isolated incident, but a sign of the institutional corruption endemic in Iraq. A pharmacist that worked for the government for instance, told Ned Parker, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, that he would regularly see cheap medicine being bought from abroad with no quality control checks. They usually involved kickbacks for bureaucrats as well in the deals. Not enough supplies were purchased either, with hospitals complaining about a lack of drugs and medicines. The situation was so bad, that some asked their patients to go buy supplies for their own procedures. The Health Ministry was supposed to take care of these matters, but it often did not fill orders placed with it. Instead, Ministry workers would steal drugs to re-sell on the black market, take bribes, and as stated before, buy expired medicine instead of new ones as another way to make money.
Iraq's hospitals often lack medicine and supplies because of inefficiencies and corruption at the Health Ministry (Washington Post)
These problems exist in all parts of Iraq. In Kurdistan for example, President Massoud Barzani set up a committee to look into government corruption in April 2011 as a response to public protests there. (1) It found the exact same set of circumstances with the Kurdish Health Ministry buying large amounts of counterfeit and expired medicine from abroad. The committee reported that nothing substantive was being done about the issue either, and that the top leadership was partly responsible. The president’s office and cabinet signed many contracts without ever going through the relevant ministries. The ruling Kurdish parties like to portray themselves as the “other Iraq,” which is better off than the rest of the country. When it comes to corruption and inefficiency due to a state-run economy it is no better than Baghdad.

Iraq has consistently been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Because it is the most oil dependent nation in the region it has huge amounts of cash, which makes it unaccountable to the public. The only thing politicians need the people for is their votes every couple years. Otherwise they do not depend upon them for taxes and revenue. The citizens are instead reliant upon the government for food, services, and jobs. Given that position, top officials to the lowest bureaucrat feel that they can take from the system what they can get. The result is hospitals without supplies, bad medicine being handed out to patients, and people lining their pockets with public funds in corrupt deals. Instead of serving their country, the government is only serving itself.


1. Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12


Dazzayi, Saman, “100 unlicensed Iraqi pharmacies closed last month,” AK News, 5/14/12

Parker, Ned, “The Iraq We Left Behind,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012

Reilly, Corinne, “Iraq’s once-envied health care system lost to war, corruption,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/17/09

Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12


Anonymous said...

I haven't visited this blog for quite a while, yet the stories are still the same, and nothing changes in Iraq. In my opinion the root of all these issues is political.

Why do Maliki, Sadr etc. still enjoy so much support and power despite these issues? It's because Iraqis' contempt for members of other ethno-secretarian groups is far greater than their own desire for basic needs such as electricity and medicine, to the point that they still are happy to support such scum (can't think of a milder way to describe them) and live in such poor conditions as long as their neighbours are worse off. It almost makes you lose sympathy for them.

The rot has set in now, and is likely to stay for a long time unless a major change occurs. Iraq needs someone to clean house, a complete reconstruction of the political ranks. I think Allawi was the only prospect for this, but his winning would have prompted a civil war, for the reasons stated above.

Joel Wing said...

Anon, I think the easiest and most common way people try to interpret Iraq is through an ethno-sectarian lense, but I think that distorts the real picture as much as anything.

The reason why people support Maliki, Sadr, etc. is because they have machines behind them, just like in most countries of the world. Sadr for example has his Sadr offices across central and southern Iraq, has charities, religious students he supports, plus all those militiamen. The government offices and ministries they run also provide them with a huge patronage system that they can use to gain and maintain voters. The same goes for Maliki and his Dawa/State of Law, who have even more levers to use to create their machines. Same goes for the Kurdish parties, etc.

As for Allawi, the problem with him, is that his Iraqi National Movement has always been deeply divided, and has come apart again and again. There are too many leaders with their own agendas, which was seen from the get go. As soon as people like Mutlaq and Nujafi got their positions in the negotiations over forming the government, they basically abandoned Allawi.

Allawi is also a deeply flawed leader himself, who barely goes to parliament, and isn't even in Iraq that much. He has a house in Jordan and England, where I think his kids go to school and live, and travels around the region seemingly more than he is in Iraq. That's why his base has frayed so much, because he basically ignores them. Many of his party members throughout southern Iraq for example have left him, and there are constant stories of mass defections of parliamentarians going on as well. His machine has suffered because of his failings.

I agree about the rot, and perhaps the only solution is for this generation of leaders to pass. The only problem is how long that will take, and the probability that the new leaders will have grown up through the existing machines. Hopefully newer politicians however, will not have the deep personal disputes that the current generation has.

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