After eight months’ delay and ten days of furious debate in local government, the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan passed its 2012 budget at the end of last month.
For 2012, the northern state’s budget totals around US$12 billion. Most of that amount would be put toward operating expenses with under a third going toward investment.
At the first reading of the budget, many of the Kurdish opposition parties were upset about it because, they noted, it was not transparent enough. Other issues included the fact that the revenues expected from the oil industry and from customs and duties payments were not clear; they also objected to the amount allocated for the regional leaderships and the state’s security apparatus and intelligence services.
A further issue was the budget deficit – presumed expenditure is greater than expected income on the state’s accounts. And finally there was the delay: the authorities were always late in submitting the budget for the local parliament’s approval. Usually the delay was six months, this year it had been eight months.
“There is always a delay in submitting the budget to the Parliament,” Abdullah Mullah Nouri, an MP for the opposition Change movement, complained to NIQASH. “This year, we received it eight months after we were supposed to. So the financial year has shrunk from 12 months to five, or maybe six. That doesn’t happen anywhere but in [Iraqi] Kurdistan,” he says. “And the most worrying thing for us is that the same problems are repeated every year.”
In terms of the region’s revenue, the opposition parties say that the figures don’t add up. The estimated income is less than previous years’ and as Nouri, who is a member of the local committee on oil and gas, says, “if we take into consideration oil revenues and the amount of trade between the region and its neighbours – this goes up to IQD30 billion [around US$25 million] – we think that the revenues should be much higher than those stated in the budget submitted to us.”
Nouri also pointed out that final accounts were never submitted to Parliament and that the local government appeared to have no numbers for the amount of unemployed in the region, the number of tourists visiting and other important statistics.
Opposition politicians were not the only one expressing concern about this year’s budget. A group of locals, including some civil society activists, formed the “Popular Committee for Defence of the Budget” and promptly consulted local analysts and economists in order to come up with a list of points they presented to the local government.
“The budget was not transparent and this was actually acknowledged by officials in the regional government as well as by the leaders of Parliament,” Kamal Rauf, head of the committee and also editor-in-chief of Hawlati, the first independent newspaper in the Kurdish region, says. “The committee asked the government to clarify the budget. Much of the region’s oil revenue and other revenues are being wasted.”
In order to have any say about the state of the budget, those who had questions about it really only had one option: their chance would have come if the region’s President had not signed immediately and had sent it back to Parliament for further discussion. However the President signed the budget off without heeding the various critics’ calls for further investigation.
This, political analysts say, could eventually cause of further trouble in Iraqi Kurdistan and disrupt the currently, relatively calm, relationship between the electorate, the various opposition parties and those in power.