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Iraq

Slow Reconstruction Blamed on Corruption

Integrated Regional Information Networks, United Nations, September 8, 2006

A billboard in Basra reads "It's your choice to reconstruct instead of destroy" and "Raise your hand for reconstruction, not a weapon for destruction. The future is in your hands." (Photo: Toby Melville / AFP-Getty Images)

It has been three years since the fall of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government and Iraqis are still lacking basic facilities such as power, clean potable water, and sanitation, problems some experts blame on corruption.

"Corruption has become common in Iraq. Every government department is plagued by some type of corruption and the problem has become endemic countrywide," said Judge Radhi al-Radhi, head of the Commission on Public Integrity (C.P.I.), which is tackling corruption.

So far, some 3,500 corruption cases have been investigated by the C.P.I., of which 780 cases have been lodged in court but fewer than 50 have been tried, according to officials.

Al-Radhi said that corruption was present in Iraq in many forms — from stealing money from coffers of ministries that should be used for the country's development, to the purchase of better grades by university students.

This endemic corruption has led to a dire lack of funds for a reconstruction process in a country that has some of the world's richest oil reserves. Now, families still suffer from having less than four hours of electricity a day, poor potable water, and there is open sewage almost everywhere.

The Missing Millions

"About US$4 billion has been pilfered from state coffers and no one is taking responsibility — but we are working hard to find those responsible," al-Radhi said.

The U.S. government has injected some $21 billion for reconstruction and relief funding in addition to the $5 billion Iraqi Security Forces Fund and the $19.6 billion Development Fund for Iraq. This brings the total U.S. reconstruction tab to more than $45 billion.

"From this money invested [by the US] and some US$10 billion invested by [other] donors in Iraq for the reconstruction process, at least 25 percent of the entire amount is missing without an explanation," al-Radhi said.

According to al-Radhi, some of this money has gone toward the purchase of furniture for government officials who have also restored their homes with government funds.

At present, 70 cases of corruption are being investigated. In one of the cases, a female government official was found guilty of hiring about 40 bodyguards for her personal use but who were on the government payroll.

Al-Radhi also said that about $1 billion was used by the Ministry of Interior for the purchase of arms that have not been received. Those funds, he said, could have been used for repairing schools and hospitals as well as for other reconstruction work.

"Corruption is definitely hampering reconstruction. Corruption affects development and prevents benefits from flowing to those who most need them," said Arwa Hassan, Middle East Program Coordinator for Transparency International, a Berlin-based N.G.O. that monitors corruption worldwide.

The worsening security environment has also facilitated corruption, as people do not inform authorities of corrupt colleagues for fear of being threatened or even killed.

"If security was improved, you could have enforcement mechanisms and there would be freedom to actually carry out more proactive work. But as long as the situation remains so difficult, it does not look likely that things will change in the immediate future," Arwa said.

According to the Iraqi government, there are three bodies that deal with corruption: the Commission for Public Integrity, the Board of Supreme Audit, and the Inspector General — the latter of which each ministry has.

"It is fair to say that they are at varying stages of development. Some are dedicated and hard working, others lack competence," Arwa added.

Failing Legal System

"Iraq is failing in addressing corruption and this is pushing up the cost of rebuilding the country and worsening the already deteriorated economy," said Faya'ad Ziad, a professor of economics at Mustansiriyah University.

"There is no real justice against corrupt people and this is resulting in more people living without access to essential services such as power and sanitation," Ziad added.

Most of the courts in Iraq have been refusing to take corruption cases because of the huge number of terrorism and kidnapping cases, especially in Baghdad, where corruption is worse.

"For them, corruption is not as important as terrorism, but they are not aware that insurgency is also increasing due to corruption. Some of the looted money is being invested in terrorism," Ziad said.

Al-Radhi said fear has also delayed prosecution work. "Some 20 judges working on corruption and terrorism cases were killed last year," he said. © IRIN

[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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