Iraqi parliament still unable to pass budget

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Following disagreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament has been unable to ratify the 2014 budget, with many political blocs boycotting sessions in which it is discussed.

The Iraqi parliament failed yesterday [March 2] to discuss the draft budget, which would have paved the way for its approval, because of the withdrawal of Kurdistan Alliance members of parliament. The latter left the parliament hall in protest, after the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's 17% share was not included in the draft budget. 

This comes at a time when the Iraqi government is linking the inclusion of this share in the draft budget with the resolution of the oil dispute between Baghdad and Erbil. Baghdad is requesting that the Kurdistan Region pay $24 billion in back payment for crude oil exports made by the region. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) says that Baghdad owes it billions of dollars. 

Speaking to Azzaman, Haytham al-Jabouri, a member of parliament from the State of Law Coalition, said, "We realized the time [constraints]. There [are] only a few days left for the parliament to ratify the budget." Jabouri, who is a member of the parliamentary budget committee, added, "The continuation of disputes between the blocs will render the parliament unable to ratify the budget." Jabouri stressed that [proposed] salary increases cannot be adopted, in preparation for disbursement, until the budget is passed. He added that the parliament's failure to pass the budget will increase distrust in the Iraqi state, and this is a great shame that both the parliament and the government are responsible for. 

Jabouri said that the failure to approve the budget inflicts a loss amounting to $3 billion a month on Iraqis, in terms of development [expenditures]. Jabouri revealed the reasons for the delay in approving the budget, saying that the problems between Baghdad and Erbil regarding oil revenues are one of the primary causes of the delay in ratifying the budget. He clarified that, according to statements made by the central government, the KRG owes Baghdad $24 billion in oil revenues from fields in the Kurdistan Region. 

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Yet a Kurdish source told Azzaman that these figures have no basis, claiming that the central government in Baghdad owes the KRG $10 billion. Jabouri said that the KRG claims its oil production amounted to 156 million barrels last year, and that about two-thirds of this amount was consumed domestically by the three Kurdish provinces. 

Jabouri clarified that, according to data from the Office of Financial Supervision in Baghdad, the other 15 Iraqi provinces did not consume [the remaining] third of the oil produced in the Kurdistan Region in this period, meaning that the difference was smuggled abroad. Jabouri said that another problem is that the KRG does not accept the reports from the Office of Financial Supervision in Baghdad and doesn't trust the office. He added that the government has debts owed to many companies that it should have paid by the end of last year. He said that the months-long delay in paying [these debts] severely damages Iraq's reputation with investors and foreign companies, and decreases their desire to invest. Jabouri revealed that the failure to approve the budget hurt the government's efforts to conclude arms deals for the defense and interior ministries. He said that the government has fallen behind on paying a number of military deals it had signed. 

For his part, Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi called on the government to be more active in working to solve the outstanding problems regarding the state's General Budget Law for 2014. During a press conference held yesterday, Nujaifi added that this draft law required a political consensus, [and shouldn't just be] passed by a majority. He added that the Kurds are a part of the Iraqi people, and they must be respected. He said [the government] should not make the mistake of violating the Kurds' rights. The parliament speaker added that he had scheduled a special session to discuss the Anbar crisis on Thursday [March 6], and expected the blocs to attend. 

Nujaifi said that the current problem between Erbil and Baghdad has been complicated by the federal government's decision to stop paying salaries to the KRG. He called on the Kurds to disburse salaries first to return to the dialogue. He added, "We will not accept for the parliament to be [insulted] or accused of negligence, but the problem between the Kurdistan Region and the central government involves finding a solution that pleases both sides." 

Nujaifi noted that members of parliament from all of the blocs have been absent [from sessions to discuss the budget], including 44 members of parliament from the National Alliance, 15 from the Kurdistan Alliance and 25 from the Iraqiya List. "We hope all MPs will attend the sessions, especially since we have issued an order canceling all vacations. The parliament's session will continue daily until we approve the budget," he added. Nujaifi said that the budget law is a very important law, and that the members of parliament are concerned with passing this law. "However, the law arrived nearly a hundred days late to the parliament, and there were problems in it, most notably those between Erbil and Baghdad. Moreover, the second deputy speaker, Arif Tayfour, has refused to include the budget on the agenda," he added. 

"We decided last month to hold parliamentary sessions to pass [the budget], and it was put on the agenda several times. But any session where we present the budget is boycotted by a number of blocs, and we don't achieve a quorum," he noted. Nujaifi indicated that the parliament's presidency is not in agreement at all [when it comes to the budget], and that the parliament's internal system requires that the precedency only include laws on the schedule that everyone agrees on.

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Found in: parliament, oil, kurdistan regional government, kurdistan region of iraq, baghdad
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