Friday, October 24, 2014

Iraq: Corruption disrupts government aid to Iraq's displaced

Photo: Cathy Otten/IRIN. Any Iraqi who registers with the government as displaced is meant to receive a cash grant of around US$850.

Source: IRIN

Officials in Iraq are diverting and delaying payments earmarked for displaced families, according to senior people in the government department concerned.

A parliamentary investigation is under way following claims that corrupt officials within the Ministry of Displacement and Migration have been forcing displaced families to pay bribes in order to receive government cash support.

Salam al-Khafaji, deputy minister of displacement and migration, acknowledged there were problems and described the distribution system as "chaotic".

"I tried to impose the law and keep the process organized, but there were obstacles in our way," he explained. "I captured many staff in possession of fake documents and files claiming they belonged to [internally displaced persons (IDPs)].

"The displaced families are paying the costs of this confusion. They are the victims," he said, but added that some IDPs did not help themselves by paying the bribes and then refusing to tell officials whom they had paid.

Like all displaced people in Iraq, each Iraqi family displaced by the advance of Islamist militants is entitled to a cash grant of one million Iraqi dinars (IQD) (US$850) from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MODM) to help pay for shelter and food.

Ahmed Al-Salamani, a Sunni lawmaker representing Anbar Province, and a member of the Migration and Displaced People Parliamentary Committee that has launched the probe, told IRIN: "MODM staff have been asking the displaced families for [a] certain amount of money as bribes in order to pay their dues.

Qassim Ahmed, a former police officer in Mosul, says he submitted his family’s application for a grant more than once to authorities in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where he, his wife and two children fled after the militant group calling itself Islamic State (IS) took control of his hometown in June.
“We were surprised by the many complications that obstructed the granting of the 1 million IQDs,” he said. It was only after he and four neighbours each paid $100 to a “fixer” that the money arrived.
Al-Salamani said other MODM staff  "have been stealing the money and then telling the people that their names were not on the lists, or that they had already received the payment when they haven't."
The Committee has also received reports of businesses inflating prices on supplies tendered to government, he said.

IRIN was unable to verify this last claim, but a number of officials admitted that there had been problems with the cash grant system.

"There are always bad people who want to take advantage of a situation and of desperate people," said Ayla Hussein Albazaz, the MODM representative in Iraqi Kurdistan, where more than 850,000 of the estimated 1.8 million Iraqis displaced since January are now sheltering.

"We heard there were problems, so we found those involved and got rid of them," she said, giving assurances the system was now running much better and that a second round of distributions was being planned.

Bureaucratic slowdowns

As well as allegations about corrupt practices, slow bureaucracy is taking its toll - caused in part by a soaring demand and weak capacity - and in turn creating an environment that enables corruption.

Many Iraqi families fled their homes without paperwork and some have been told they must return to their birthplace to apply for new documents before they are eligible for any cash support.

Shaiyma Noor, 25, left Mosul in June with her husband, who was in the military. She is now sharing a tent with her sister-in-law's family at Harsham camp, a small settlement or around 1,000 people on the edge of Ainkawa, the Christian district in Erbil.

However, because she and her husband left their homes without their passports and ID, they cannot claim any financial support from MODM and are now relying on their relatives for support.

"I was born in Baghdad and that was where my ID was issued, but I lived in Mosul for the last three years. Now they are saying I must go back to Baghdad to get my documents, but we have no means to be able to do that," Noor said.

A number of other IDPs complained about long waits for cash and said even when they received the money, it was not enough. Winter is approaching and IDPs need to buy warm clothes, blankets and extra fuel to be able to survive the below zero temperatures.

Civil servants, who were promised their salaries would continue even though they were no longer attending work due to having been displaced, are also struggling to get their money.

Acute problem in Kurdistan

The problems with cash transfers to pay IDPs and salaries are particularly acute in Kurdistan due to a long-running political dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government in Baghdad over Kurdistan's oil sales. The row has affected the normal transfer of funds from Baghdad to KRG.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, chair of the Iraqi government's High Level Committee for IDPs told IRIN in a statement that 50 billion IQD ($43 million) had been transferred to the sub-committee in Kurdistan to be distributed to IDPs and that an additional 60 billion IQD ($51 million) was to be spent on 15,000 "living units" across the province of Dohuk, which is hosting an estimated 440,000 IDPs.

He added that 5,000 full-service tents designed to withstand winter conditions were being provided to an IDP settlement at Zakho, a town in Dohuk, close to the border with Turkey, at a cost of 19 billion IQDs ($16 million) and a strict time frame had been set for delivery.

"We will impose the severest administrative penalties against those who breach [their] duties deliberately towards IDPs," he said.

UN agencies contacted by IRIN declined to comment on the allegations of malpractice at MODM.