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How Iran’s 'justice shares' impede state divestment from the economy

The Iranian government’s "justice share" scheme has impeded divestment of state involvement in the economy, further complicating efforts to institute genuine privatization.
Iranian investors monitor an electronic board at the Tehran Stock Exchange, Iran, January 17, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.  - GF20000097697

In the 40 years since Iran’s Islamic Revolution, consecutive Iranian governments have pursued social justice as a key policy principle. The distribution of so-called justice shares, beginning almost 12 years ago, is one such example of a populist policy that had been promised to underprivileged Iranians under mass privatization programs. The aim of the justice share program was to distribute stocks of state-owned enterprises that could yield dividends to millions of poverty-stricken families. Although some meager dividends have been paid to justice share owners, those who subscribed to the scheme are not yet the direct shareholders, as initially intended. This is chiefly due to the program’s multiple inherent complexities, including legal, technical and operational impediments.

According to data posted on the Justice Shares Information Center website, more than 47 million Iranians own justice shares. The number of state-owned enterprises that were supposed to be privatized under the justice share program is now 49, down from 60.

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