BAGHDAD, 19 May 2009 (IRIN) - Iraq’s state-run food rationing system is crumbling and corruption in high places could be partly to blame.
A new survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation of 120,000 families which had qualified for state food handouts in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, found that 18 percent of families had not received the nine-item food ration for 13 months; 31.5 percent for 7-12 months; 14.5 percent for 4-6 months; 22 percent for 2-3 months and 14.5 percent for one month.
The survey also revealed concerns about the quality of food items: 16 percent of the surveyed families said the ration items in April were bad, 45 percent said they acceptable, while 29 percent said they were good. Top on the list of bad items was tea, followed by rice, flour and sugar, the survey found.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Trade Minister Abdul-Falah al-Sudani is facing a no-confidence vote in parliament next week over embezzlement and corruption charges - mainly in relation to food imports for the food rationing scheme known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), a member of parliament (MP) said on 18 May. “So far we have collected 110 MPs’ signatures for this vote.
Corruption in the Trade Ministry is running high, mainly over imported food items unfit for human consumption,” said Sheikh Sabah al-Saidi, chairman of the parliament’s Integrity Committee. “Billions of dollars have been wasted in this ministry and this has led to citizens receiving bad food items over the past few years and also delays in distribution [of food items] in some places,” al-Saidi said. A simple majority of the 275 members of parliament is enough to dismiss the trade minister.
On 16 and 17 May, Al-Sudani appeared before parliament where he acknowledged there had been some cases of corruption in his ministry and admitted “some food items were bad.” The minister’s brother and another official were arrested while seven other officials, including another brother, are still at large. Rations still vital “Despite the negative points that have been registered by the survey, the [surveyed] families still considered the food ration system to be the only guaranteed way of ensuring their food security,” the survey said.
Iraq’s food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago.
However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption. Monthly PDS parcels are supposed to contain rice (3kg per person); sugar (2kg per person); cooking oil (1.25kg or one litre per person); flour (9kg per person); milk for adults (250g per person); tea (200g per person); beans (250g per person); children's milk (1.8kg per child); soap (250g per person); detergents (500g per person); and tomato paste (500g per person).