Monday, January 30, 2012

Opposition MP resigns over scandal

ERBIL –  A member of the Kurdish parliament from the opposition Gorran [change] Movement resigned from parliament following a scandal which outraged his party leaders. Earlier in January 37 parliamentarians, four from Gorran, tried to buy government property on the cheap.

Ismael Galali is the only Gorran MP out of the four to resign from parliament. Last week the other three resigned from the Gorran party, saying they would form a new bloc in parliament to continue their work.

Karwan Salih, Paiman Abdul Karim and Abdul Rahman Hussein said they did not seek to deceive the public and try to own the housing provided for MPs during their work for the parliament. Rather they said they believed parliament should sell the houses to the MPs if it plans to sell them.

The scandal was first reported in a local weekly newspaper Awene. The 37 MPs, most of  them from the ruling parties, signed a petition addressed to parliament's speaker, demanding he allow the MPs own the houses for only $200,000 USD (233 million IQD), the original cost of the houses. But the homes are worth over $600,000 USD (699 million IQD) according to market prices.

The resignation of the Gorran MP, Ismael Galali, comes after Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa criticized the MPs and called on them to explain themselves to the public. He demanded they apologize because under the party's guidelines they were elected by the people to fight corruption.

If the legislators were unwilling to explain themselves Mustafa offered them the choice to fall on their swords. A preferable option for Galali, unlike the other three.

Gorran welcomed Galali's decision to step down in a statement which also quotes Galali as saying the attempt to buy the government house was a mistake.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gorran MPs involved in bid to own parliament housing at low costs to splinter from party

Jan. 26 – Four parliamentarians from the largest opposition party in Kurdistan region, Gorran, are likely to splinter after party leader Nawshirwan Mustafa criticized them for signing on a bid that would see the buying of parliament housing property at very low costs.

Goran LogoThe splinter option comes after the local media reported that Gorran leadership has decided in a closed meeting to sack the four MPs from the party for signing on the petition.

According to the petition signed last month by over 37 MPs in parliament, most of the from the main ruling parties, the houses provided for MPs as accommodation during their work in the parliament and whose value is over US$600,000 would be sold to the MPs at a price no more than US$200,000.

Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa called on the four MPs in an open letter circulated on the media channels in Kurdistan to apologize to the people of Kurdistan for not passing the test of money and breaking their vows to serve the people of Kurdistan Region as they had promised in the electoral campaigns two years ago.

Nawshirwan said in the letter that he always tested real men with money and positions.. "When people praise them they should not be too much self-satisfied and they should not see people as inferior"

"Some of you proved to be weak in the first test… you were not strong enough for the ploy of money, apartments, villas, cars, bodyguards and other privileges..  I don't like anybody avoid bad deeds for me or discipline, but for the fear of being held to account by the public and their own conscience" he said in the letter.

The Gorran leader called on the MPs to explain what happened to the public and offer apologies. Also to push on the parliament to pass legislations to reduce the salaries of MPs which amount to about US$6,000 in a country where average salary of an employee is US$500.

Abdul Rahman Hussein, one of the four Gorran MPs told AKnews that "W have only withdrawn from the Gorran bloc in the parliament, but will continue to work in the parliament.. we will form a new bloc in the parliament, but we will continue to work within the principles of Gorran"

Hussein said the four Gorran MP's signing on the petition was not to buy government properties at very low costs. "We asked the parliament that if it planned to sell the houses it should sell them to the MPs and the payments be made in installments"

Karwan Mala Salih, another of the four Gorran MPs who signed on the petition, refused to give a comment on splintering from Gorran. "We will not talk about this. We have decided it [splintering from Gorran] to release ourselves [from commitment to Gorran obligations]"

By Fryad Mohammed and Raber Y. Aziz

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Different views about controversial formal dress decision

BAGHDAD, Jan. 25 (AKnews) – A controversial order by the Iraq  Ministry for Women Affairs to dress formally in state institutions has set off outrage among women activists who have described the bill as a restriction on women freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

The Ministry issued regulations in September last year to all ministries and government offices that women employees should wear formal dresses that suits with the government work but without defining specific colors or deigns leaving that for the institutions to choose depending on the nature of their works. And recently, the ministry tightened up the regulations on women.

Iraq's Minister of State for Women Affairs Ibthal al-Zaidi told AKnews that the new regulations were issued after they had noticed that women employees went to work in dresses not conforming to the formal dresses "that are meant to respect the government institutions"

"The ministry of women affairs is not standing in against the freedoms of women and is not restricting them as they are guaranteed in the constitution." Said al-Zaidi, "But we are saying that [government employed] women should have particular formal dresses as it is the case in all countries in the world"

But a women activist Ala al-Jubouri says the decision is a "clear violation" of the Iraqi constitution which states on freedoms.

"If the government is keen on improving the reputation of Iraq and the reputation of the government employee, then there is the financial and administrative corruption, which is choking the Iraqi citizens, to address"

A good image of Iraq is not in the female government employees' dresses, but in improving its ranking in the Transparency International's Corruption Index where Iraq currently is fifth most corrupt country in the world, she says.

Shamirn Markost, secretary of Iraqi Women League – a women rights association – said the new regulations could create a crisis in the country as it is "interference" in the personal freedoms.

"This contradicts the principle of democracy on which the country has been based after 2003" Markost said. "The Iraqi government has to review go back on such decisions to avoid creating crises"

She said there were more important issues in the country for the Ministry of Women to address instead: care for widows, divorcees and orphans.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kurds in Paris protest the suspension of Kurdish TV by Eutelsat

ERBIL, Jan. 22  – Hundreds of Kurds in the French capital took to the streets on Sunday to protest Paris-based TV satellite operator Eutelsat's decision stop carrying the broadcasts of Copenhagen-based Kurdish TV station Roj TV on the grounds that a Danish court found it guilty of supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed separatist group regarded by Turkey as a "terrorist" organization.

On January 10, a Danish court found Roj TV guilty of supporting the PKK between 2008 and 2010 and imposed a 400,000 euroes fine but refrained from order its closure which the Turkish authorities have been seeking since the establishment in 2004.

The French media reported that the protesters who gathered outside Eutelsat headquarters in Paris accused the management of the satellite services provider of collusion with Turkey to silence Kurdish voices. Some of the Protesters chanted slogans "Sarkozy is a partner of the fascist Erdogan"

The protesters repeatedly defended ROJ TV as the "voice of the Kurdish people"

The Eutelsat decision has been criticized the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as an "outrageous decision violating freedom of expression".

"From China to Iran and Saudi Arabia, Eutelset has already shown its lack of regard for freedom of information. Now it is helping to promote an 'anti-terrorist' rhetoric with broader political implications. This is a favorite argument that repressive regimes use to justify their media freedom violations. It is also the pretext Turkey used to jail 30 journalists a month ago. Is the French government, a shareholder in Eutelsat, ready to take responsibility for this decision?" RSF said.

PKK is an armed that has been fighting the Turkish state since its establishment in 1984. The fighting has caused more than 40,000 lives most of them Kurds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kurdish women in Ankara launch initiative for Ocalan’s freedom

ERBIL, Jan. 19 - A group of seven Kurdish women in the Turkish capital launched an initiative on Thursday that calls for the release of jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels as a first step towards a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue in the country.

The women released a statement to announce the initiative which they have called "Freedom for Ocalan for the Sake of Peace"

Among the women are lawmakers from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – the largest Kurdish party in the country – Ayla Akat and Amine Ayna in addition to five other activists.

The initiative calls on the Turkish government to "resume talks with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to achieve peace in the country"

They stressed that the Kurdish question in Turkey can come only through dialogue.

Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 when he was arrested in Kenya and was extradited to Turkey. He has been serving imprisonment on the island jail of Imirali near capital Ankara.

Last year, Turkish authorities blocked his lawyers from meeting him anymore no grounds that they passed messages to his armed group who still remain loyal to him.

Established in 1984, the PKK has taken up arms against the Turkish state to fight for the country's minority Kurds. The fighting has claimed some 40,000 lives most of them Kurds.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Erbil most desirable city for foreign investment: survey

ERBIL, Jan. 11 – Erbil Governorate is the most desired destination for foreign investment in 2011 with over $1 billion USD (1.1 trillion IQD) channeled into Kurdistan Region in 2011.

Erbil Governorate received the lion's share, $1.26 billion USD (1.5 trillion IQD). That is about 57% of the $2.18 billion USD (2.5 trillion IQD) foreign money sloshing about the region according to a survey by Kurdistan Region's Investment Board.

The remaining two governorates of Kurdistan Region, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok, each attracted $563 million USD (657 billion IQD) and $457 million USD (534 billion IQD) in foreign investments respectively.

The majority of the foreign investment has gone to the housing sector, according to the survey.

Kurdistan Region is the hot spot for investment in Iraq since 2003 and is regarded as one of the Middle East's best growth prospects in 2012. According to statistics released by the Investment Board, the region has attracted some $16.2 billion (19 trillion IQD) in foreign investment over the past five years.

Of this again Erbil Governorate has received the lion's share, attracting 61% - $9.8 billion USD (11.5 trillion IQD) - across the five years.

In the same period Sulaimaniyah and Duhok attracted $2.7 billion (3.2 trillion IQD) and $1.5 billion (1.8 trillion IQD) respectively.

Kurdistan Region's boom in foreign investment has been accredited to its accommodating Investment Law, passed in 2007. The law provides incentives for foreign investors including the possibility of owning land, up to 10 year tax holidays, easy repatriation of profits and removal of tariffs on exports and imports related to the project.

Figures obtained from the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ministry of Trade last month showed a 30% increase in the number of foreign companies registering in Kurdistan Region in 2011. Up from 331 companies in 2010 to 433 companies this year.

By Raber Aziz (AKnews)

Early elections or replacement of al-Maliki, says Mutlaq

ERBIL, Jan. 11 -  Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq says Iraqiya List will call for early elections or the replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, if political tensions continue.

Mutlaq's statement came in an exclusive interview with AKnews. Below is the full text of the interview.

Q: Iraq has been moving from one crisis to the next since the March 2010 elections, what do you think is the reason for that?
A: Because decision-making in Iraq is in the hands of foreign powers. The current Iraqi government is an Iranian-woven fabric formed with the blessings of the U.S. Now that the U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq, the decision-making is in the hands of Iran. It is Iran who decides whether or not Maliki will stay in power.

Q: If as you say the government was formed under guidance from Iran why are you part of this cabinet while you have 91 seats in the parliament?

A: Because there is no real democracy in the country. If a party wants to play opposition it will be treated under article 4 of the terror law and so they will be arrested whenever the government wishes it. There is no real freedom and democracy, what is in store is abuse, dictatorship and despotism.

Q: You have already paid for what you have just said, are you saying again that this government is a dictatorship?

A: I am ready to say more, pay even greater costs, to clarify the truth. I do not regret what I said earlier, I reiterate it, Maliki and the Dawa Party have taken a dictatorial course to take over the country and to become the one and only ruling party.

Q: Now there are preparations for a national conference, does the country need more conferences and initiatives?

A: They say they are busy forming committees that organize the conference, but these committees have not been formed yet. The country is facing a major crisis but there is no serious attempt to contain it. The political leaders should have met as soon as possible but because some of them are associated with foreign powers or some of them are accused of corruption and terror they have abstained from the meeting just so that the authorities keep quiet about them.

Q: Iraqiya List has set several conditions for participation in the conference, and there is also the problem of where to hold the conference [Erbil or Baghdad] is there any ray of hope that the conference will be held anytime soon?

A: Where to hold the conference should not be a problem. Erbil, Sulaimaniyah or Baghdad doesn't matter, it is all Iraq. What matters is to be a stable and secure place.

Q: Is there the suitable atmosphere for the success of the conference?

A: No, the atmosphere is not suitable. Because some would rather have the situation remain in crisis because they are used to creating problems. They feed off creating problems rather than solving them, they do not have the ability to develop the country therefore they want to keep the country busy in a continuous state of crisis.

Q: There is a cold war in the [wider] region between Sunnis and Shiites, can we say that Iraq is part of this war, too?

A: Iraq is paying for the regional conflicts. Because the political process in the country is weak everybody is looking to exploit Iraq.

Q: Following your meetings with the Kurdish leaders, how do you see the political position of the Kurds?

A: I would thank the position of the Kurds as a just position that is caring about the country. Today, I feel that Massoud Barzani, the President of Kurdistan Region, has a duty and that's to force the previous agreement [on the political blocs] and to find solutions for the current crisis. A crisis which is a result of not implementing the agreement. This would be a responsible position.

Q: If the crisis remains as it is now, what would be your next step?

A: We will call for early elections under the supervision of an interim government that would not be involved in the elections. If early elections are not an option, then we will call for the replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. All the political factions inside the National Coalition would rather have Maliki substituted but they can't change him [now] because he enjoys external support.

Q: There are several pending issues between the Kurds and Iraqiya, I wonder if it is time now to resolve these issues, now that there is a convergence between the two sides?

A: We are keen on resolving all issues that linger between the Kurds and Iraqiya. There are meetings and talks, and the initial steps have been taken for a strong alliance between both sides. We failed to get to know each other better previously. There was a period of avoiding each other. Now that we're closer, we have a very good mutual understanding

By Mohammed Abdul Rahman


11/01/2012 14:21

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When meat is entrusted to the cat

This is a Kurdish idiom meaning that something is entrusted to the wrong person. And this is exactly the case with 37 Kurdish parliamentarians who have passed a petition to the parliament speaker to approve their requests that the parliament sell them the houses – parliament accommodation used by MPs for the period they work as parliamentarians – for a very low cost, about US$200,000 while their current market price exceeds US$600,000. The scandal created a fuss in the Kurdish media after the weekly newspaper Awene published an article in its Monday issue on the 2nd January 2012.

The parliament speaker said he had rejected the petition. Opposition forces who together hold 39 seats in the 111-seat parliament said they had not signed on the petition which leaves only the two main ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by the President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The Kurdish people have indeed entrusted the meat to the cat by voting these parliamentarians. These are a group of people who are supposed to be working for the public good, defend people and remove violations, be it corruption, or transgression on public property.

My concern is not that they have tried to swallow some US$400,000 easily, but that these greedy politicians receive a monthly salary of no less than US$7,000 - in addition to other expenses including travel and money to buy vehicles - while the regular salary of an average employee is US$600. With this large amount of money, they could lead the best life in the region. They don't even need to be living in the parliament accommodations. They can buy the  best of the houses during one four-year term, buy the most luxurious cars and leave happily ever after thanks to the huge pension they will get when they actually go into "retirement" after the end of a four-year-term with 80% of their monthly salary, can you imagine that? The parliament of Kurdistan Region consists of 111 members, that's 111X$7,000X0.8=US$621,000 per month that goes to "retired" parliamentarians. And this means about US$7.5 million per year. But this figure is only for 111 parliamentarians. How many parliamentarians are retired? Hundreds! And hundreds more are awaiting retirement. At this rate, the parliament of Kurdistan Region will have to spend dozens of millions in dollars per months on people for having lived well and spent well for four years in parliament. Let's not talk about all other officials - who number about a thousand according to media reports - who have gone into retirement with the rank of ministers and general managers for a few years of work in the government with the same huge salary, or otherwise we will be dealing with really huge figures.

Let's make a simple comparison. In UK for instance, MPs need to pay taxes and contribute to a pension plan in order to get pension when retiring. An MP will normally receive a pension of either 1/40th or 1/50th of their final pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service depending on the contribution rate they choose. Members who make contributions of 10% of their salary gain an accrual rate of 1/40th. Now just compare the figures: UK MPs receive 1/40th upon the condition of 10% contributions, and Kurdish MPs receive 8/10th with no definite conditions for contribution. The normal contribution for government employees is about 5%.

Now, what is most disturbing is not that a group of MPs in the Kurdish parliament are trying to rob public property, of course through legal procedures, but that if the same MPs run for the next term of the parliament, they will be voted for by their fans who will start defending them as well. This is because in Kurdistan Region it is not important what a politician does. What matters is which party the politician works for. There are politicians in the region who have been on the political arena for the last two decades. There are faces in the government that we have seen for the last two decades and everyday. Yet they continue to work in the government, because the people don't actually give a damn about how they perform, what matters is their political affiliation. This blind support for political parties has deep roots in the Kurdish enclave. And this is the very reason for the survival of corruption.