Their faces beamed as they left the Prime Minister’s office. But the glee was over the cash gifts they received, and not for promises of determination to bring prosperity and security to the country.
The Prime Minister has made a habit of receiving notables, among them tribal chieftains from across the country. That is a positive sign because it helps him, as the country’s top leader, get first hand information on conditions in Iraq.
But giving every one of his visitors a sum of money just for showing up for an audience raises eyebrows. We have learned that upon leaving, every visitor is handed an envelop containing at least $1,000.
This practice reminds us of the dark days of dictator Saddam Hussein, who used to shower his visitors with money. But the former strongman used to pay in Iraqi currency and not U.S. dollars.
The Prime Minister, his government and entourage live inside the Greenzone, the most fortified and relatively most secure place in Baghdad. Many Iraqis think the zone is not even part of their country. All dealings there are in U.S. dollars and the amenities and comforts provided are in stark contrast to the sewage-inundated and car bomb-torn streets of Baghdad.
Government largesse, particularly that paid by the Prime Minister and other senior officials, reminds us of the technique Saddam Hussein used to win hearts and minds. Iraqis wonder whether the money being dispensed is direct from official pockets or the Iraqi treasury. If the money comes from public funds then it’s nothing but theft.
Some might say the gifts could be part of the Prime Minister’s private fortune. If this is so, we have the right to ask where and how he got that money, as scores of visitors see him almost every day. Under current regulations, the Prime Minister and other public officials are obliged to declare their assets to the public before assuming office.
Members of the former government never did so, and none of the incumbent officials is known to have made such a declaration either.
Today the current government tells us that the former government embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars, which was stashed away in Arab and foreign banks by ministers and other senior officials.
We fear that the next government will say the same about those currently ruling the country.