Iraqis Question Parliamentary Pensions

By Omar al-Shaher for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Some political blocs in Iraq believe that the demand to abolish retirement pensions for former MPs is a ploy by one political party to restore its popularity after losing in the recent local elections.

Iraqi MP Hanan al-Fatlawi, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, announced on June 18 that she and 10 other MPs submitted to the Iraqi Council of Representatives a draft law to abolish pensions for MPs and members of the provincial and municipal councils. She noted that another draft law will be submitted to reduce the salaries of high-ranking appointed officials.

At a press conference, Fatlawi said that she “and 10 other MPs submitted to the parliament presidency a draft law to abolish pensions for MPs and members of the provincial and municipal councils.”

There are no reliable numbers available on the money consumed annually by what is likely thousands of retirees — including former MPs, ministers, heads of districts and subdistricts and general directors. Yet the amount is estimated at nearly 100 billion Iraqi dinars ($80 million) per year.

MPs in Iraq receive a pension of nearly $6,000 per month, while retired ministers receive a pension of close to $8,000.

Nahida Daini, a member of the Iraqi parliament's Economic Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The draft law to abolish pensions for MPs is just electoral propaganda [from] a political bloc that has suffered a loss in the recent local elections and wants to restore its popularity.”

Daini seems to be referring to Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, which had lost a number of provinces in the local elections held in April 2013 after having dominated local administrations over the past four years.

According to Daini, “This was possible in the first [parliamentary] election cycle ... but now it is very hard to do so.”

Daini said, “There are two sessions of the former Iraqi Governing Council, the 2005 MPs and the current MPs, all of which costs the state budget a lot. Yet abolishing their pensions is out of the question.”

She noted, “A lot of blocs will not vote for this law, even though they ostensibly agreed upon it.” She added, “This law will not be passed because it will include high-ranking appointed officials, undersecretaries of the ministries, the government and the three presidencies. Recently, the Federal Court restored the three presidencies’ salaries to what they previously were, after they had been cut.” She asserted, “The law to cancel pensions for MPs is inconsistent with the constitution, which stipulates them.”

On March 2, the Iraqi Supreme Court had annulled as unconstitutional the law enacted by the Council of Representatives to reduce the salaries of the three presidents of the republic, government and parliament, as well as the salaries of ministers and MPs by 25%-30%.

The Iraqi judiciary said that the Supreme Court ruled that law No. 27 of 2011, on the salaries and allowances of the Council of Ministers, is unconstitutional. It added that the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the law was enacted by the House of Representatives in contradiction to Article 60 of the Iraqi constitution, which grants this right to the presidents of the Republic and Council of Ministers.

Iraqi activists launched a campaign on social-networking sites to support abolishing pensions for retired MPs. The campaign’s Facebook page has garnered 7,000 followers at the time this report was written. One activist, Hamid Jahihej, said, “The campaign to cancel pensions for MPs will be present in the streets.” Writing on the campaign’s page, he added, “I'll voice my demand and that of the Iraqi citizens in Liberation Square. I will express my right to protect Iraq’s public money.” He continued, “I hope that every citizen takes to the nearest streets and takes advantage of his or her freedoms. Our beloved country will not be able to get back on its feet if we do not carry it on our shoulders.” He concluded by exhorting his countrymen to try "to be citizens for once and demand your rights.”

Iraqi MP Abdul Hussein Abtan said, “The draft law to abolish pensions for retired MPs, ministers and high-ranking appointed officials is a popular and ethical demand. In fact, it achieves social justice.” Nevertheless, he told Al-Monitor, “This draft law should be submitted by the government or the prime minister, or else it cannot be enacted.”

Abtan continued, “I think that parliament, and as MPs, we are ready to enact this law if it is submitted by the Council of Ministers.”

Omar al-Shaher is a contributor to Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. His writing has appeared in publications including France’s Le Monde, Iraq's Alesbuyia, Egypt’s Al-Ahaly and the Elaph website. He previously covered political and security affairs for Iraq's Al-Mada newspaper.

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