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The huge, hidden salaries of iraq\'s parliamentarians

Haider Najm
The large salaries and extensive privileges granted to ministers and parliamentarians in Iraq have exhausted the state budget for the last 7 years. The way money was distributed among officials was also marred by a…
22.04.2010  |  Baghdad

Wael Abdul Latif, a Judge and an independent MP in the dissolved parliament, claims that many parties fought him when he constantly demanded reductions in the salaries and priveleges of officials. He now believes there is “no way to reverse things” and said,

“there have been means to get around the law and the constitution over the past years to keep the privileges and salary as high as they are now.”

Abdul-Latif, a former minister and a former deputy, also said that the total take home salary of a minister or a Parliament member per month is 12.9 million Iraqi dinars (US$10,800). This amount includes security protection costs and other monthly expenditures. The whole amount is tax-free, according to Abdul-Latif.

Another source in parliament confirmed the figures on condition of anonymity “in order to avoid any administrative penalties” that could be imposed if his management knew he released the figures.

The total yearly salary of parliament member is US$129,800, a total of US$518,000 over four years. After retirement, an 80 percent pension is paid.

Compared to the average income in Iraq, these figures are extremely high. According to official figures, the average monthly income in Iraq is $266, with an annual of $3200 for the year 2008. That means parliament members earn 40 times as much as the average Iraqi per year and earn in one month three times as much as the average Iraqi earns in a whole year.

The comparison becomes more painful if we take into consideration that the salaries of parliament members in countries like Germany, with a very strong economy, is US$9,370 subject to taxation, plus US$5,354 for expenses. This comparison reveals that an Iraqi parliament member earns more dollars than his German counterpart after tax. Accounting for the large differences in standards of living between Iraq and Germany and the differences between average incomes between the two countries.

In addition to their high salaries, parliament members in Iraq are granted other privileges that their counterparts in other countries do not enjoy. In 2009, three parliament sessions were held under conditions of confidentiality and a law was unanimously passed granting parliament members wives and children diplomatic passports valid for 10 years. In the same period when this law was endorsed, the Iraqi parliament failed to reach an agreement over the legislative elections law because parliament members absented themselves and did not attend sessions held to pass the law.

The special sessions were much criticised in Iraq. People felt disappointed and betrayed by those who they went to ballot boxes and chose as their representatives.

Additional privileges are granted to parliament members such as tax-exempted loans for cars and land purchases. In some cases the amount of loan has reached 90 million Iraqi dinars ($76,000). The repayment schedules for these loans are very relaxed with installments deducted from parliamentarians’ pension salaries.

The Iraqi constitution clearly stipulates that the salaries and privileges of of senior government officials should be published in the Official Gazette. Until now, no such law has been enforced.

Some parliament members submitted proposals requesting a reduction in the salaries and privileges granted to members of the three presidencies. The 2010 budget included a 10 percent reduction in salaries. Few months after the submission of these proposals, the Iraqi parliament approved the 2010 state budget with 10% reduction in salaries. Many Iraqis considered this reduction as cosmetic and not commensurate with the magnitude of benefits and salaries granted to high-ranking officials.

Regarding the salaries, benefits and expenses given to officials, the same anonymous source in parliament said,

“The distribution of these amounts is marred with lack of transparency. There is an agreement among the major parties not to raise this issue or address it in the media. Junior state employees are not allowed to disclose any information related to this issue,” he added, explaining his wish for anonymity.

Abdul-Latif confirmed this belief, stating, “the top nine persons in the new Iraqi state oppose the issuance of any new law [on salaries and expenses],” implying that the president, his two deputies, the prime minister and his two deputies and the parliament speaker and his two deputies are the ones who are responsible for this situation.

During the last legislative elections that took place in March 2010, the issue of reduction in the salaries of parliament members and government officials was among the slogans used by some candidates.

The National Coalition list, ranking in third place after Iraqiya and the State of Law list organised a campaign before the elections, to demand reductions in the salaries of presidents, ministers and parliamentarians. The National Coalition said that it would not approve the 2010 budget unless this condition was taken into consideration. However, the budget was passed and the list's condition was ignored because of other compromises made.

Abdul-Latif, who holds a doctorate degree in law and who served as a judge before 2003, said “the National Coalition, through its campaign organised before elections, was able to reduce salaries of high ranking state officials by 10 percent.”

The campaign and the demands raised were considered by some as merely ‘cosmetic’ and aimed only at depriving Maliki from using state money in his electoral campaign.

Members of the parliament’s financial committee have often repeated that they have no idea about the amounts allocated for the three presidencies and said that there is an agreement between all parties “not to raise this issue.”

Abdul-Raheem al- Ukaili, a judge and the president of the Public Integrity Commission in Iraq, told Niqash that “the presidency and prime ministry specify their own financial allocations. This is a violation of the Iraqi constitution and this practice contradicts with the principles of combating financial and administrative corruption,” he added.

The commission has full oversight of the amounts allocated for the three presidencies and their members. It receives financial statements on such expenses, however, “with the absence of a law regulating the salaries of high ranking employees, we are unable to launch any proceedings,” said al-Ukaili.

The official 2009 budget did not include pages containing the salaries and expenses granted to officials. In another case of the government protecting themselves from justified anti-government sentiment that would surely grow if their disproportionate salaries were made public, the pages were intentionally absent.