Iraq's Food Rationing Controversy

By John  Lee.

Iraqis are divided over plans to reform the country's largest social welfare programme.

Iraq’s cabinet decided last week to remove the food rationing scheme in favour of a direct cash transfer to citizens, which would mean that from the start of March next year, all Iraqis would be entitled to a monthly payment instead of the current ration card system under which families are entitled to claim flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil and baby milk from government-appointed shops.

The monthly payment will be 15,000 Iraqi dinars ($12.50) according to Gulf News, IQD 20,000 according to France24.

The food distribution system, accused by many of being inefficient and riven with corruption, was started under the Saddam Hussein regime after Iraq was subject to an embargo. In 2010 the IMF described the system as "an inefficient generalised benefit that distorts private sector activity".

But faced with opposition within the country the government backed down and according to a report from France24, Iraqis will be allowed to choose either for a monthly cash payment of or the regular allocation of food items.

Kamal al-Basri, an economist with the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform (IIER), said:

"This is ridiculous, this is a measure we have been waiting for since 2004. This is a very important economic reform and it should take place."

Basri complained of corruption and leakages in the ration card programme noting that the long process of getting food from government warehouses into the hands of citizens was not straightforward.  "At every step, there are some leaks [and it] prevents the development of a private sector."

According to an IIER survey of 400 families in the poor Baghdad neighbourhoods of Sadr City and Hai al-Tareq, two-thirds of respondents said they would prefer to receive money rather than food.

(Sources: France24, Aswat al-Iraq, Gulf News)

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