x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Iraq to shut down government for much of the summer

A proposed law aims to shorten workdays and help public employees avoid searing temperatures that commonly exceed 49°C and blanket the country during the peak of summer.

BAGHDAD // Iraq's government, already infamous for its lethargy and red tape, may soon shut down for much of the summer.

A proposed law aims to shorten workdays and help public employees avoid searing temperatures that commonly exceed 49°C and blanket the country during summer's peak.

It will also cut work hours during Ramadan that begins in late July, Younadam Kanna, chairman of parliament's labour and social affairs committee, said on Saturday.

But Iraq is already feeling the heat from its people and foreign partners. The government largely has failed to overcome decades of war, sanctions and military occupation and settle into a democratic system that delivers reliable security, electricity and other public services.

Much of the government's work has been slowed by a political crisis, fuelled by ethnic and sectarian tensions, that flared after US troops withdrew from Iraq in December and has produced demands for the Shiite prime minister's ouster.

"The employees in our ministries are looking for any pretext to run away from their offices," said Jassim Al Obeidi, an estate agent in Baghdad.

"I think that this measure will add more delay to the work in the government offices, and the only damaged party will be the ordinary people who will have to spend more time and efforts trying to finish their paperwork for the government."

Mr Kanna, a member of parliament's tiny Christian political coalition, said the law should not significantly affect the government's work. But he said it is still not decided how short workdays might be cut. He also declined to comment on whether it would apply to security forces, lawmakers or top ministry officials.

"We think that the proposed measure is necessary for government employees, especially those who work in the streets, construction sites or open fields," Mr Kanna said. "Working under high temperatures for a long time will definitely affect the health of the employees or workers."

Last week, the US-based Fund for Peace ranked Iraq No 9 on its annual Top Ten list of failed states worldwide. The non-partisan research group ranked 178 nations and cited persisting security problems in Iraq, such as the attacks that have killed more than 160 people so far this month, amid few improvements in soothing the ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Other groups highlight corruption as a key obstacle to development and trust in state institutions.

But Iraqis frequently complain that languid administration compounds the problems caused by instability and corruption.

Like many Muslim countries, official work in Iraq usually grinds to a halt during Ramadan, which this year begins July 20. But the law would for the first time legalise the slowdown for the country's government.

Before then, parliament is trying to rush through votes on as many as 50 pieces of legislation that have been stalled for months.

Laws to divide oil revenues between the central government in Baghdad and Iraq's self-rule Kurdish region, and settle boundaries for disputed lands in the country's north, have languished for years.

Parliament's major accomplishment so far this year was approving Iraq's US$100 billion (Dh367.3bn) operating budget - which included $50 million to pay for armoured cars for each of the 325 lawmakers.

Lawmakers earn an estimated $22,500 (Dh82,642) each month in salary and allowances for housing and security. In contrast, a midlevel government employee makes about $600 a month.