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Corruption Haunts Trade Ministry

Higher levels of scrutiny introduced to limit damage from corporate and individual dishonesty.
By Yaseen al-Rubai

The Iraqi trade ministry’s inspector general has begun to personally supervise the signing of important contracts with foreign investors to ensure there is no wrongdoing or corruption.


Nidhal Raheem said the ministry has discovered numerous illegal activities, such as employees awarding fake contracts worth millions of US dollars and stealing food items and equipment such as vehicles.


“A number of fake contracts have been drawn up by employees,” admitted Raheem.


In one instance, a one million dollar contract was awarded for the construction of four warehouses to store food items, but they were never built. The five ministry employees responsible for the tender were later arrested.


The inspector added that several Arab companies have also been involved in illegitimate business practices, such as selling spoiled or expired food items to Iraq. He cited a Syrian company that, with the assistance of ministry staff, signed contracts to supply goods of a specific standard, but substituted products of inferior quality.


Raheem added that corruption at the individual as well as corporate level is a problem for the ministry.


Sometimes ministry employees steal high-quality food items to sell for personal profit and replace them with products that have expired or gone bad. Raheem said that ten such cases of corruption have been referred to the courts for prosecution to date, and that investigations would continue into others.


The ministry has also discovered employees replacing Alphie cooking oil - an expensive product - with a cheaper brand, while Dilac, a baby milk product which sells for around seven dollars per box, was sometimes swapped for another item that has a value of only 16 cents.


Outgoing trade minister Muhammed Mustafa al-Juboori has acknowledged that there is corruption in his office.


“There are staff working hard to destroy the trade ministry by covering up the violations committed by the employees under them,” he said.


Trade ministry technician Ghassan Ali told IWPR that five employees of the State Company for Foodstuff Trading – part of the ministry - had been arrested because they had forged their education certificates and were therefore unqualified for the important posts they were holding.


Hussein Ali Hussein, a legal department employee at the State Company of Grain Trading, believes that such incidents could be avoided if lawyers were involved at every stage of the contractual and negotiation processes.


“If that were the case, these violations by corrupt employees would not have happened,” he said.


Aside from problems caused by corruption, the trade ministry is facing other obstacles.


Raheem told IWPR that food supplies and other equipment have been stuck for weeks at Iraq’s borders and ports - including at least 13 truckloads of tea, nine containers full of baby milk, and 300 Peugeot vehicles.


“We cannot bring them in because of the [still unstable] security situation,” he said.


Yaseen al-Rubai is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


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