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money for nothing
iraqi MPs get US$23 million – for retiring

Mustafa Habib
Baghdad activists are planning a major demonstration at the end of August protesting the huge sums Iraqi MPs get, even if they serve less than four years in parliament. Over 300 MPs get around US$72,000 a year in a…
7.08.2013  |  Baghdad

For several weeks now, Iraqi Facebook and Twitter pages have been abuzz with the debate over how much Iraqi MPs get paid – and in particular how much they get paid after they leave office. According to a document obtained from Parliament, each of the 325 MPs in Iraq gets a salary after he leaves office, of at least US$72,000 a year. And that\'s even if the MP doesn\'t complete a full term in office. Adding all of the salaries together equals around US$23 million a year in MPs\' salaries. Iraqi MPs get these payments as long as they live and the number getting these pensions obviously rises with each new batch of parliamentarians.

Iraqi law stipulates that a retired state employee has the right to receive a retirement pension if his service is not less than 15 years and if his age is not below 50 years old.

However Iraqi MPs seem to have ignored this law and in fact, they\'ve passed special laws that allow them to receive pensions if they serve for less than four years - and even if they serve for less than four years.

“MPs\' pensions are a huge economic problem,” says Majid al-Souri, a local economist. “They get paid the money but they don’t do any real work in return after they retire. So they\'re inadvertently destroying the middle class and creating a society where there is only rich and poor.”

Additionally, as Basil Amin, a financial analyst, told NIQASH, “most of these MPs don\'t spend their money inside Iraq. They invest in real estate outside Iraq or they invest in private projects in neighbouring countries.”

Several civil society activists\' groups have started an online campaign to raise awareness of these kinds of sums; it\'s called the National Campaign to Cancel MP Pensions.

“It is illogical to give an MP a retirement salary of millions of Iraqi dinars until he dies for serving the country for only four years,” says Shamkhi Jabar, the spokesperson for the campaign. “Some MPs served for less than a year while there are employees who have served the country for 25 years and who earn less than US$2,400 per annum.”

The campaign involved posters in streets and plans for a major demonstration at the end of August. A number of the campaign activists even put the posters on their cars and drove around Baghdad.

“Civil society organizations won\'t just demonstrate,” says Hamid Jajeeh, a member of the campaign\'s coordinating committee in Baghdad. “We will also file a complaint in Iraq\'s highest court, demanding that these salaries be cancelled – we don’t really trust the MPs to do it themselves.”

Popular pressure like this has led to serious discussion in the parliamentary legal committee about draft legislation that would either cancel the pensions or cut them to a more reasonable level.

“There are many proposals being discussed by the committee,” legal committee head Khalid Shwani told NIQASH. “That includes ideas about cutting the pensions or cancelling the pensions altogether and replacing them with a simple end-of-service payment.”

In fact, public outcry about the pensions has been so loud that some parties have even said that their MPs will no longer accept the pensions. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, currently led by young cleric Ammar al-Hakim, was the first to announce this. The Sadrist movement were the next to make a similar announcement. And when these two powerful Shiite Muslim blocs said this, other politicians began to follow suit.

Even Iraq\'s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki joined in, calling for MPs from his party to waive their pensions.

Its hard to say whether these “promises” will be kept. “Politicians always say one thing and do another,” says one of their number, Samira al-Moussawi, an MP from al-Maliki\'s State of Law bloc. Al-Moussawi thinks that the issue should be put to a vote in parliament and that the voting session should be broadcast live, so that the Iraqi public can see what politicians are really saying and promising, and who is being the most honest on this topic.

Even if the MPs do all get together to decide on cutting the pensions there may still be another problem to overcome. The high court may cancel any resulting legislation because they say, formulating these kinds of laws is the executive\'s job; parliament only authorises them. And in fact, there is a precedent for this. IN March this year the court annulled a law parliament passed reducing the salaries of ministers and MPs between 25 and 30 percent.