Iraq Benefit budget 'empty'




Iraq's parliament speaker has told MPs that the oil-rich occupied state has run out of money to pay for widows' benefits, farm crops and other welfare programmes for the needy.

Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi vowed on Sunday to press Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law administration for answers on where the money has gone.

A finance ministry official said the estimated $1 billion (£680bn) social care budget has been emptied for 2010. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.

Baghdad MP Maha Adouri, one of the women who make up a quarter of the legislature's 325 members, said: "There are thousands of widows who did not receive financial aid for months - we should ask the government where these allocations for widows' aid have gone."

Another legislator said farmers have not been paid for wheat and other crops they supplied to the government for at least five months.

The cause of the shortfall was unclear, but whatever the cause the welfare cutoff has hit Iraq's most vulnerable citizens."We are sick people and others are old, and not getting our welfare puts us in a financial crisis," said Fatima Hassan, a widow who lives with her four children in Baghdad's Sadr City slum.

"How can we pay for our daily needs and for our medicine, or to cover the needs of my children? Where are the revenues of our right in our oil?" said Ms Hassan, who stopped receiving welfare payments more than four months ago.

Even though parliament has hardly met over the past eight months, MPs have continued to pull in salaries and allowances that reach $22,500 (£14,090) a month - as well as a one-off $90,000 (£56,300) stipend and perks like free nights in Baghdad's finest hotel.

"They kept our millions in their pockets," said Mizher Abdul Majeed, a farmer in Mosul whose bank refuses to cash the Iraqi Trade Ministry-issued cheques that pay for his wheat."How can we prepare for the coming planting season?"The country's myriad parliamentary factions continue to squabble over cabinet posts.

The Morning Star. foreigneditor@peoples-press.com

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