By Kamal al-Ayash.
After Elections, Anbar’s Would-Be MPs Still Owe Millions
Candidates in the recent elections spent millions of dinars on their campaigns in Anbar. Or at least, they promised to. Many small businesses, including copy shops and butchers, are still waiting to be paid.
There were almost 7,000 candidates running for office in the Iraqi elections, held May this year. The central Iraqi province of Anbar had about 350 of their own – and many of those candidates spent big on their campaigns.
In some provinces, local authorities reported that candidates spent as much as US$350,000 and even as much as US$1 million on campaigning. That’s a huge amount of money for Iraq and local small and large business owners are well aware of the windfall the elections can bring them.
But there are also dangers, especially if a candidate didn’t win. Companies that print posters, provide required services for events, or host elector-pleasing conferences will often strike a deal with a politician.
Possibly the politician will only pay a deposit upfront and promise to pay the rest after the election. Or possibly they will work through a broker, who organizes the campaign materials and the deals around them. And sometimes, those promises of payment are not honoured.
Hamid al-Fahdawi, 48, knows all about that. The Ramadi print shop owner says he is still owed more than IQD5 million (around US$4,200) and he’s been trying to contact his creditors. But they appear to have used a mobile phone during the election campaign and then discarded that number afterwards.
“I am still trying to call the candidates who owe me money,” al-Fahdawi says. “I hate hearing that automated tone on the phone that tells me ‘this number is out of reach’.”
Local businesses are relatively savvy about this, says Khalil al-Mohammedawi, a 55-year-old who owns a small printing office in central Fallujah. “There are a lot of people making money during the elections,” he explains. “That includes brokers who act as contact persons between service providers and the politicians. But because of our previous experience, we also know who is going to pay his debts and who is not.”
Al-Mohammedawi also says that some businesses build this risk into the prices they charge and they still make a profit even if they don’t get paid the full amount.
The print shops and small advertising agencies are not the only ones suffering from political non-payers. Large restaurants have catered meals for hundreds of candidates’ constituents and colleagues, often at substantial cost.
“Most of us trusted these candidates and we allowed them to place large orders on their tabs, without asking for payment,” says Hikmat al-Hazimawi, a restaurant owner in Ramadi. “We knew many of them personally, that’s why. What we didn’t know is that things would change after the elections and they would not pay us and would try to avoid us.”
The debts cause a chain reaction, al- Hazimawi adds, because now he cannot pay the people from whom he bought his meat and so on.
Another copy-shop owner in Fallujah disagrees with some of the complaints though. “The people who are owed money are those who never did this before,” Hazem al-Mohammedi suggests.
“They’re new to the business and they don’t know how to deal with these people, or who to deal with. Most of the candidates are actually respectable people and if you deal with them directly, you will be paid. It is the brokers that cause the trouble. Most of the money in those cases is not being spent on goods and services, but on the broker’s margins.”