Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday, 17 September 2009, 02:07 EDT
Corruption becomes headline in Kurdistan

A number of men are pictured in downtown Halabja. GLOBE PHOTO/Qassim Khidhir

By Qassim Khidhir 

Several billion dinars have disappeared in Suleimaniya governorate

The Suleimaniya governorate and Halabja mayor are accused of embezzling a lot of money. 

Local newspapers in Iraqi Kurdistan Region, in particularly the media belonging to Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (the Iraqi President's political party), have recently begun publishing reports accusing the Suleimaniya governorate and the Halabja mayor of corruption. 

To a degree, the reports forced the Halabja mayor to hide and now security forces are looking for him. 

Kurdistan Region Minister of Justice Farouq Jamil stated that several billion Iraqi dinars have disappeared in the Suleimaniya governorate. 

Jamil explained that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) allocated 25 billion dinars to fight drought and one billion dinars to eliminate cholera in Suleimaniya province, but nearly three billion of this amount has disappeared without being spent on drought or cholera. 

The KRG has demanded Suleimaniya governorate send all bills and documents from 2007-08 to know how the governorate spent the money, but the governorate informed the KRG that it does not have bills or documents for 2007. 

The KRG's Ministry of Finance has confirmed that it has not received the 2007 bills from the Suleimaniya governorate. 

In addition, the reports show that the governorate has taken million of dinars collected from taxes. 

Suleimaniya governor Dana Ahmed Majeed defends his administration by saying that he and the Suleimaniya provincial council are not responsible for all the corruption. 

"After we received the money from the KRG to fight drought and eliminate cholera, we distributed the money over the districts and sub-districts in Suleimaniya province; it is the administrations of the districts and sub-districts who are responsible for misusing the money," said Majeed. 

In a press conference, Majeed remarked that the governorate has formed a committee to investigate the money that was allocated for drought and cholera. 

"The committee has been able to return some of the money," he said.

Halabja mayor is wanted

At the end of August, the Halabja court issued an arrest warrant against Halabja Mayor Fuad Saleh for stealing around 100 million dinars. But the mayor was able to escape undetected and there is conflicting information as to his whereabouts. Some say he is now in Baghdad and others say he is still hiding in Kurdistan Region. 

According to the Halabja court, Saleh claimed he spent around 100 million dinars to carry out a number of projects. The court, which described the projects as "delusive," said the mayor claimed that most of the projects were related to water, but after an investigation, the court found that none of these projects existed. 

The projects ostensibly were building a water network to a number of villages and purchasing fuel for generators and water tankers to irrigate farms in Halabja district. 

Reports show that most of the projects fulfilled in Halabja district were given to a company that has strong ties with the mayor. 

Moreover, the Iraqi government allocated US$6 million to build 600 houses for 600 poor families in Halabja. It was decided that each family would receive US$10, 000 to build a house, but reports say the mayor gave US$8,000 to each of the families. 

Judge Qadir Hamajan, general director of Kurdistan Region security, said: "We are still looking for the Halabja mayor to arrest him, and if we find out that a person is giving shelter or hiding the mayor, we will punish the person [according to the law]." 

Halabja residents are complaining that they have always told officials and KRG that the Halabja mayor is corrupt but no one answered their complaints. 

"We have been shouting for a long time; we know the mayor is corrupt--we know there is huge corruption in Halabja, but unfortunately the government responded to our protests very late," said Nasih Abdulrahim, a university teacher from Halabja.

Political motivation

Investigating corruption began by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), after Goran (Change) list won the majority of votes in Suleimaniya province in the last Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections. 

Members of Goran were former members of PUK; according to them, they split from PUK because PUK leaders were unable to make reform inside the party and combat corruption. But PUK claims that most of the high-ranking figures in Goran are part of the corruption. 

PUK leaders pointed out that the members of Goran seek power, not reform or fighting corruption. 

Kurdistani Nwe daily newspaper, a mouthpiece of PUK, reported that the Suleimaniya governor, the Suleimaniya provincial council, and the Halabja mayor are Goran supporters, and during the last election campaign they spent government money to campaign for Goran. 

Goran and the Suleimaniya governor as well as the provincial council strongly reject the accusation.

Source: The Kurdish Globe