Iraq PM sacks electricity minister after weeks of protests over corruption

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi sacked his minister of electricity after weeks of protests against corruption and chronic power outages. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
Updated 30 July 2018
0

Iraq PM sacks electricity minister after weeks of protests over corruption

  • The minister's sacking follows weeks of protests
  • He is accused of corruption and a failure to deliver

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Sunday sacked his minister of electricity after three weeks of protests against corruption and chronic power cuts in the energy-rich country.
A statement from Abadi’s office said the premier sacked Qassem Al-Fahdawi — whose departure was demanded by protesters — “because of the deterioration in the electricity sector.”
Iraq has been gripped by protests over power outages, unemployment, state mismanagement and a lack of clean water.
The demonstrations — during which 14 people have been killed in clashes — erupted in the neglected southern province of Basra, home to Iraq’s only sea port, before spreading north including to Baghdad.
On Sunday, protesters held sit-ins outside the governor’s headquarters in Basra and Samawa, in neighboring Muthana province, AFP correspondents said.
Power shortages are chronic in Iraq, a country devastated by conflicts including the war against Daesh which held a third of the country before Abadi declared victory over the militants in December.
Hours-long electricity cuts are a source of deep discontent among Iraqis, especially during the scorching summer months when demand for air conditioning surges as temperatures soar past 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).
Since the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has allocated some $40 billion (35 billion euros) in state funds to rebuild its power network and meet the needs of a 38-million-strong population, official figures show.
But much of that has been syphoned off by politicians and businessmen in a country listed by Transparency International as the world’s 12th-most corrupt.
A government official told AFP on Sunday that Abadi had also ordered investigations launched into fake contracts.
Fahdawi commended the premier’s call for investigations and called on ministry staff to cooperate with the probes, one of his advisers said.
Political analyst Hisham Al-Hashemi did not expect Fahdawi’s sacking to appease the protest movement. For that to happen, he said, “the managers of all ministries should be put on trial.”
Since 2003, more than 5,000 so-called “phantom contracts” have been signed in the public sector, according to Iraq’s parliament. During the same period, $228 billion has gone up in smoke due to shell companies, it says.
A lawyer, Tareq Al-Maamuri, recently lodged a complaint against Fahdawi and his ministry for failing to provide electricity.
He also demanded prosecutions over alleged “embezzlement of public funds.”
Since Saddam’s toppling in 2003, successive electricity ministers have been sacked over corruption or forced to quit in the face of angry protests.
One of them fled abroad after he was accused of embezzling $500 million.
In 2010, one of Fahdawi’s predecessors, Karim Wahid, resigned after a wave of protests across central and southern Iraq against draconian power rationing.
Power shortages have forced Iraqis to buy electricity from private entrepreneurs who run generators visible on street corners across the country.
Despite the shortages, electricity consumption has risen since 2003 as Iraqis make more use of household electronic equipment including computers and mobile phones.
Iraq — the second-largest oil producer within the OPEC cartel — sits on some of the world’s largest crude reserves, with the oil sector accounting for 89 percent of the state budget.
Officials say the expensive war against Daesh and a slump in world crude prices have emptied state coffers of the funds desperately needed to rebuild infrastructure.
They also blame Iraqis who they say are not paying their utility bills.
Fahdawi’s sacking comes amid political tensions as Iraq awaits the results of a partial recount of May 12 elections, while political factions jostle to cobble together a coalition.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
0

Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.