Iraq's parliamentarians earn about $270,000 a year in salary and benefits. So why are they stealing money from their security guards?
This is the charge leveled against lawmakers by the guards themselves, who quietly stepped forward in recent months to complain that they weren't receiving their full allotted salaries of roughly $600 a month. One guard reportedly said that he was receiving only about $210, and there were reports of lawmakers' offices inflating their payroll with "ghost employees" to skim off more money.
This practice is hardly the norm among all lawmakers, but it's become enough of an issue that the new parliamentary speaker, Osama al Nujaifi, earlier this week set new rules to regulate allocations and benefits. Lawmakers will now have to produce official documents from each security guard as a condition to receive funds, in an attempt to crack down on ghost employees. And Nujaifi also said that guards now could come to parliament themselves to receive their salaries directly.
It's part of an aggressive series of moves by Nujaifi in his first days as speaker, and it suggests that the Sunni politician from the northern city Mosul is going to make something out of his position, perhaps building it up into a counterweight to the powerful office of the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite. Nujaifi has also backed an investigation demanded by Sunni lawmakers to investigate the abrupt closure last month of the popular independent Baghdadiya TV channel, which was denounced by free-speech groups.
Given the disdain with which most Iraqis view their politicians, Nujaifi can certainly score points in the new government by cleaning up corruption and thievery and by trimming the fat from Iraqi officialdom. The funds allocated to each lawmaker's office for hiring contract employees is about $20,000 per month, spread over as many as 30 people. The monthly base salary (not including car, housing and expense allowances) for just one lawmaker? About five times that.
(With reporting by Sahar Issa in the McClatchy Baghdad bureau)