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

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.


Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

Updated 28 May 2020

Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP is working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is looking at ways to change electoral laws in order to block challenges to power from two new breakaway political parties.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP and its nationalist coalition partner the MHP are working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties — a move that has fueled rumors of an imminent snap election in the country.

Under Turkish election rules, political parties must settle their organization procedures in at least half of the nation’s cities and hold their first convention six months ahead of an election date.

Any political party with 20 lawmakers in Turkey’s parliament is entitled to take part in elections and be eligible for financial aid from the treasury for the electoral process.

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has hinted at the possibility of transferring some CHP lawmakers to the newly founded parties to secure their participation in elections.

Turkey’s ex-premier, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the country’s former economy czar, Ali Babacan, both longtime allies of Erdogan, recently left the AKP to establish their own opposition groups, and have come under pressure from the AKP and MHP to leave their parties out of the race.

Babacan has been critical of Erdogan’s move away from a parliamentary system of governance in Turkey to one providing the president with wide-ranging powers without any strong checks and balances.

“The AKP is abolishing what it built with its own hands. The reputation and the economy of the country is in ruins. The number of competent people has declined in the ruling party. Decisions are being taken without consultations and inside a family,” Babacan said in a recent interview.

He also claimed that AKP officials were competing against each other for personal financial gain.

Babacan, a founding member of the AKP, was highly respected among foreign investors during his time running the economy. He resigned from the party last year over “deep differences” to set up his DEVA grouping on March 9 with a diverse team of former AKP officials and liberal figures.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Ankara’s Bilkent University, believes Babacan’s recent statements have angered Erdogan.

“As a technocrat, Babacan gains respect from secular circles as well as the international community, which Erdogan clearly lacks. Despite being in office for 13 years, Babacan has not been tainted by corruption allegations and is known as the chief architect of Turkey’s rapid economic growth during the AKP’s first two terms,” he told Arab News.

“The legislation that the AKP-MHP coalition is working on may prevent deputy transfer only in case early elections are scheduled for the fall. Otherwise, the newly established parties will most likely build their organizations across the country and become viable for elections by summer, if not the spring of 2021.”

If Davutoglu and Babacan were successful in capturing disillusioned voters, they could prevent the ruling coalition getting the 51 percent of votes needed to secure a parliamentary majority.