The civil service, target of austerity in Iraq

Bureau de change, Baghdad, December 20.

“They absorbed popular anger by offering us jobs, then abandoned us. If they do not honor their promises, we will erect tents in each city and relaunch the protest “, warns Haïdar Rizerdjaoui. The lawyer and the hundred thousand young employees of the Iraqi electricity ministry, which he represents, did not take offense. Adel Abdel-Mahdi’s government hired them in September 2019 to buy social peace after several waves of protests demanding jobs and public services. A new large-scale mobilization, harshly repressed, led to its fall in the fall of 2019. And, since March, these hundred thousand employees have not received any salary, due to lack of budget.

A promise was made to them to renew their contracts for one year and to finance their salaries in the finance law for the year 2021, the project of which is under discussion in the Council of Ministers. “We have no choice but to honor this promise. It’s a disaster. Many public jobs have been promised through and through: after the war against[organisation] Islamic State, with each wave of demonstrations… ”, deplores Moudher Salih, economic adviser in the office of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who inherited the file when he was inaugurated in May.

A promise reluctantly conceded, because Iraq, the second OPEC producer country, has been strapped for cash since the collapse in oil prices in March in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Baghdad, whose revenues depend 93% on black gold, plans to end 2020 in deficit with a GDP falling by 11% and must resolve to austerity measures to tackle this structural crisis . The first item of government expenditure, the public service has become an unbearable burden. With less than $ 4 billion in oil revenues per month, Baghdad had to borrow, twice in 2020, to honor, sometimes late, the $ 5 billion in monthly expenditure on civil service salaries and pensions, and in grants.

“There is no control over these expenses because of the mouhassassa [système de répartition des postes par quotas confessionnels]. These jobs are a way for political parties to buy the loyalty of their base. However, we have many parties: the monster has become a hydra ”, regrets Ahmed Tabaqchali, head of the Asian Frontier Capital investment fund in Iraq.

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