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.