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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Iraqi politicians botch another attempt to agree on draft budget

Officials say the draft does not provide enough funds for provision of adequate public services

Iraqi lawmakers are seen in parliament. Reuters 
Iraqi lawmakers are seen in parliament. Reuters 

For the third-time in a row, Iraqi politicians failed to approve a draft budget bill for 2019 because they say it does not provide enough funds for the provision of effective state services.

This comes one week after some Iraqi officials said they objected to the draft budget because it does not allocate funds for the reconstruction of areas liberated from ISIS.

Parliamentarians are expected to revisit the draft in another session scheduled for next Monday.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi approved the draft budget in October, which now awaits parliament's approval. The budget of $111.9bn envisions an increase in spending of $24bn and a deficit of $22.6bn for 2019.

Parliament convened on Monday evening to discuss issues related to the draft, but parliamentarians including Finance Minister Fuad Hussein said the current bill does not provide enough funds for job creation or the provision of adequate public services.

The 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the rise of ISIS in 2014 and ensuing battles against the militant group battered the country’s infrastructure, leading to dwindling state provision of water and electricity. This has regularly led to demonstrations, especially during Iraq’s hot summer months, with citizens complaining about a lack in basic services.

Instability in the country has also contributed to staggering unemployment rates. According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) employment rates across Iraq stands at 11 per cent.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Hussein said that he will work with parliament to resolve all issues related to the draft bill. He said that he will try to settle all snags ahead of the deadline but noted that his ministry is still facing some significant problems.

He blamed the budget’s shortcomings on the previous Iraqi administration.

"The previous administration that prepared the budget has failed to address Mr Abdul Mahdi's governmental programme," Mr Hussein said, referencing a four-year government plan which focuses on some of Iraq's most pressing issues - corruption, reconstruction, economic development and a crippling water crisis.

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Janghis Awakaly, a Kurdish representative in government, also blamed the pitfalls of the draft budget on the previous administration, which he claims submitted the draft only “hours” before the new government was formed.

"This was done deliberately to undermine the new cabinet,” he told The National.

Kurdish politicians have previously said they reject the 2019 draft budget because their share was dropped from 17 per cent in 2018 to 12.67 per cent.

Mr Awakaly said that a revised budget should help enhance trust between Baghdad's central government and country’s different components.

Previous budget allocations in Iraq have been skewed, with Sunni and Kurdish regions getting a small share than areas dominated by Iraq’s Shiite majority.

Earlier on Sunday, parliament established a committee to review the draft.

“The committee will be headed by Mr Hussein who will work alongside the acting deputy finance minister, head of provincial planning and development council, economic experts and relevant parties to revise the legislation,” said a statement released by parliament.

Once the committee finalizes its work it will present another draft budget to parliament for review.