By John Lee.

The Mandali border crossing between Iraq with Iran has reported been closed following an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi’s office.

Reports say the move was in response to allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

(Source: hathalyoum)

On July 19, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation [1] with Iraq.

An improved security situation and the recovery in oil prices have improved near-term vulnerabilities. Large fiscal and current account surpluses—around 8 and 6 percent of GDP, respectively—were recorded in 2018, allowing the government to retire domestic debt and accumulate fiscal buffers. Gross international reserves reached $65 billion by end-2018.

However, post-war reconstruction and economic recovery have been slow. Non-oil GDP rose by only 0.8 percent year-on-year in 2018 in a context of weak execution of reconstruction and other public investment. Overall GDP contracted by around 0.6 percent as oil production was cut to comply with the OPEC+ agreement.

The 2019 budget implies a sizable fiscal loosening that will reverse the recent reduction in vulnerabilities. Current spending is expected to increase by 27 percent year-on-year, in part due to a higher public sector wage bill, while revenues will be dampened by the abolition of non-oil taxes. As a result, the budget is projected to shift to a deficit of 4 percent of GDP in 2019, and reserves are projected to decline.

The fiscal and external positions are expected to continue to deteriorate over the medium term absent policy changes—with reserves falling below adequate levels and fiscal buffers eroded. Although the level of public debt will remain sustainable, gross fiscal financing needs will increase. Non-oil GDP growth is projected to reach 5½ in 2019 but subside over the medium term.

In a context of highly volatile oil prices, the major risk to the outlook is a fall in oil prices which would lower exports and budgetary revenues, leading to an even sharper decline in reserves or higher public debt. Geopolitical tensions, the potential for social unrest in a context of weak public services and lack of progress in combatting corruption pose further risks.

Executive Board Assessment [2]

Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal. They were encouraged by the recent strengthening of Iraq’s economy but recognized that the country continues to face daunting challenges. Social conditions remain harsh, post-war reconstruction progress is slow, development needs are large, and institutional weaknesses are significant. Volatile oil prices and a difficult regional and geopolitical environment pose additional difficulties.

Directors encouraged the authorities to seize the opportunity presented by the improved security situation and higher oil prices to implement policies and structural reforms aimed at ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability, tackling long-standing social problems, and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth.

Directors emphasized that building a robust fiscal framework is essential to maintain fiscal and macroeconomic stability and strengthen buffers. They encouraged the authorities to adopt a risk‑ and rules-based approach to fiscal policy as part of broader reforms to manage oil revenue more effectively, reduce tendencies for procyclicality, and shift to a more growth-friendly composition of expenditure. Directors supported scaling up reconstruction and development expenditure gradually in line with improving absorptive capacity.

They underscored the need to strengthen public financial management to ensure public spending is appropriately monitored and to reduce vulnerabilities to corruption. In this context, Directors welcomed the newly adopted General Financial Management Law and encouraged its full implementation.

Directors emphasized that gradual fiscal adjustment, including containing current primary spending and boosting non-oil revenues is essential for maintaining fiscal and debt sustainability. They recommended that spending measures should give priority to containing the growth in wage bill and lowering subsidies to the electricity sector. Directors emphasized that the poorest and the most vulnerable must be protected from the adjustment process.

Directors underscored that an overhaul of the banking sector is necessary to maintain financial stability. They encouraged the authorities to restructure the large state-owned banks, enhance their supervision, and implement other reforms to increase financial intermediation. Directors highlighted the benefits of increasing financial inclusion, especially for the SME sector, which has a large potential to absorb entrants to the labor market.

Directors agreed that building public institutions and enhancing governance is key for success, and highlighted the scope for Fund capacity development to support these efforts. They welcomed progress in developing an anti-corruption framework and called for further modifications to the legal regime for combatting corruption coupled with stronger coordination between the relevant government agencies, while continuing to strengthen the framework for Anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Directors also recommended strengthening Public Investment Management framework to ensure that spending is well directed and that donor funds targeting reconstruction are put to the most efficient use.

Directors looked forward to continued close engagement between the authorities and the Fund in the context of post program monitoring.

 

Iraq: Selected Economic and Financial Indicators, 2015–24

(Percent of GDP, except were indicated)

Projections
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Economic growth and prices
Real GDP (percentage change) 2.5 15.2 -2.5 -0.6 4.6 5.3 2.6 2.3 2.1 2.1
Non-oil real GDP (percentage change) -14.4 1.3 -0.6 0.8 5.4 5.0 4.1 3.4 2.7 2.7
GDP deflator (percentage change) -26.1 -13.4 14.6 15.4 -4.5 2.3 2.6 2.8 3.1 3.3
GDP per capita (US$) 5,047 4,843 5,263 5,882 5,728 6,017 6,172 6,326 6,486 6,666
GDP (in ID trillion) 207.2 206.7 231.0 265.0 264.8 285.4 300.4 315.9 332.3 350.4
Non-oil GDP (in ID trillion) 137.3 138.3 140.8 145.6 158.1 173.2 188.1 202.8 217.1 232.6
GDP (in US$ billion) 177.7 175.2 195.5 224.2 224.1 241.5 254.1 267.3 281.1 296.5
Oil production (mbpd) 3.72 4.63 4.47 4.41 4.59 4.84 4.93 5.01 5.10 5.18
Oil exports (mbpd) 3.35 3.79 3.80 3.86 4.03 4.25 4.33 4.40 4.47 4.55
Iraq oil export prices (US$ pb) 1/ 45.9 35.6 48.7 65.2 56.0 55.8 54.9 54.4 54.4 54.8
Consumer price inflation (percentage change; end of period) 2.3 -1.5 0.2 -0.1 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0
Consumer price inflation (percentage change; average) 1.4 0.5 0.1 0.4 0.8 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0
National Accounts
Gross domestic investment 24.9 20.8 16.7 12.9 18.8 16.7 16.0 15.6 15.6 15.4
Of which: public 15.6 11.5 8.3 5.3 10.6 8.4 7.5 7.0 6.8 6.6
Gross domestic consumption 81.2 87.0 80.8 79.1 84.5 85.4 86.8 87.9 88.6 89.6
Of which: public 22.6 22.6 21.8 21.2 26.5 26.3 26.4 26.2 26.2 26.3
Gross national savings 18.4 12.5 18.6 19.8 13.6 12.5 11.7 11.1 10.3 9.4
Of which: public 3.1 -2.0 7.0 13.4 6.5 5.2 4.1 3.2 1.8 0.8
Saving – Investment balance -6.5 -8.3 1.8 6.9 -5.2 -4.2 -4.3 -4.6 -5.3 -6.0
Public Finance
Government revenue and grants 30.6 26.8 33.0 39.8 40.5 39.6 37.9 36.5 35.5 34.6
Government oil revenue 27.8 22.9 28.9 36.7 37.2 36.3 34.5 33.1 32.0 31.0
Government non-oil revenue 2.8 4.0 4.2 3.1 3.3 3.3 3.4 3.4 3.5 3.5
Expenditure, of which: 43.4 40.7 34.6 32.0 44.6 43.1 41.2 40.5 40.5 40.5
Current expenditure 27.8 29.3 26.4 26.7 33.9 34.7 33.6 33.5 33.7 33.9
Capital expenditure 15.6 11.5 8.3 5.3 10.6 8.4 7.5 7.0 6.8 6.6
Overall fiscal balance (including grants) -12.8 -13.9 -1.6 7.9 -4.1 -3.5 -3.3 -4.0 -5.0 -5.9
Non-oil primary fiscal balance, accrual basis (percent of non-oil GDP) -46.5 -43.3 -39.4 -42.4 -56.9 -52.1 -49.2 -47.1 -46.2 -45.3
Adjusted Non-oil primary fiscal balance, accrual basis (excl. KRG, percent of non-oil GDP) 2/ -44.7 -43.3 -39.4 -40.5 -50.1 -46.0 -43.6 -41.8 -41.0 -40.2
Adjusted non-oil primary expenditure (excl. KRG, percent of non-oil GDP) 3/ 48.9 49.2 46.3 46.2 55.6 51.5 49.1 47.2 46.3 45.5
Adjusted non-oil primary expenditure (excl. KRG, annual real growth, percent) 3/ -24.7 0.9 -4.5 2.8 29.9 -0.6 1.4 1.6 3.1 3.2
Memorandum items
Total government debt (in percent of GDP) 4/ 56.2 64.2 58.9 49.3 51.4 50.5 50.6 51.5 53.6 56.4
Total government debt (in US$ billion) 4/ 99.9 112.5 115.2 110.4 115.3 121.9 128.5 137.5 150.7 167.3
External government debt (in percent of GDP) 37.2 37.1 35.6 30.6 32.2 31.5 30.5 28.4 26.8 24.9
External government debt (in US$ billion) 66.1 65.0 69.5 68.7 72.2 76.2 77.6 75.8 75.3 73.8
Monetary indicators
Growth in reserve money -12.0 9.2 -4.4 6.7 2.5 5.4 4.7 4.9 5.1 4.6
Growth in broad money -9.1 7.1 2.6 2.7 2.5 6.2 5.4 6.0 5.9 5.3
External sector
Current account -6.5 -8.3 1.8 6.9 -5.2 -4.2 -4.3 -4.6 -5.3 -6.0
Trade balance -0.1 -1.7 7.6 13.4 3.5 4.1 3.2 2.0 1.3 0.5
Exports of goods 31.8 28.6 34.8 41.2 37.0 36.2 34.4 33.1 32.0 31.2
Imports of goods -31.9 -30.3 -27.1 -27.8 -33.5 -32.0 -31.2 -31.1 -30.8 -30.7
Overall external balance -6.7 -3.7 2.5 6.3 -2.5 -1.1 -1.6 -3.5 -3.8 -4.7
Gross reserves (in US$ billion) 54.1 45.5 49.4 64.7 57.2 53.5 48.5 38.8 28.2 14.3
Total GIR (in months of imports of goods and services) 9.3 7.8 7.3 8.0 6.8 6.2 5.5 4.2 2.9 1.4
Exchange rate (dinar per US$; period average) 1,166 1,180 1,182 1,182 1,182 1,182 1,182 1,182 1,182 1,182
Real effective exchange rate (percent change, end of period) 5/ 6.5 1.8 -5.1 4.9
Sources: Iraqi authorities; and Fund staff estimates and projections.

1/ Negative price differential of about $3.6 per barrel compared to the average petroleum spot price (average of Brent, West Texas and Dubai oil prices) in 2018-23.

2/ Adjusted to exclude (i) full year estimates of federal government transfers to the Kurdistan Regional Government, and (ii) non-oil tax revenues from the KRG to the federal government. In 2014 and 2015, actual transfers were made for only 2 and 5 months, respectively.

3/ Adjusted to exclude full year estimate of federal government transfers to the Kurdistan Regional Government. In 2014 and 2015, actual transfers were made for only 2 and 5 months, respectively.

4/ Includes arrears. The debt stock includes legacy arrears to non-Paris Club creditors on which the authorities have requested (but not yet obtained) Paris-Club comparable relief. Implementing comparable terms will substantially reduce debt (e.g. by 15 percent of GDP in 2017).

5/ Positive means appreciation.

 


[1] Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

[2] At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country’s authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summings up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm .

(Source: IMF)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi government has reportedly issued warrants for 26 former and current top officials, including 11 ex-ministers, who are suspected of corruption.

According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the warrants issued included 15 to director generals.

Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that none of the warrants are for current members of the cabinet, and that some of the ministers live abroad and would require extradition in order to be charged.

(Source: Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project)

Former Unaoil executive pleads guilty to conspiracy to give corrupt payments

Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s former partner in Iraq, pleaded guilty on 15 July 2019 to five offences of conspiracy to give corrupt payments in connection with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO)’s investigation into Unaoil.

The offences relate to the award of contracts to supply and install single point moorings and oil pipelines in southern Iraq. A court order restricting reporting of the plea was lifted today.

In the same investigation, Ziad Akle, Paul Bond and Stephen Whiteley have been charged with conspiracy to make corrupt payments. A trial is scheduled to begin on 13 January 2020 at Southwark Crown Court.

(Source: UK Serious Fraud Office)

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two militia figures, Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado, and two former Iraqi governors, Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.

“The United States is taking action against four individuals in Iraq implicated in serious human rights abuse or corruption,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens.”

Many of the corruption- and abuse-related actions committed by these sanctioned individuals occurred in areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them by ISIS.  Therefore, today’s sanctions demonstrate solidarity with all Iraqis who oppose corruption and human rights abuse undertaken by public officials, and underscore the Administration’s commitment to support the recovery of persecuted religious communities in Iraq.

As a result of today’s actions, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit any dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.

RAYAN AL-KILDANI

Rayan al-Kildani (al-Kildani) was designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.

Al-Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia.  In May 2018, a video circulated among Iraqi human rights civil society organizations in which al-Kildani cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.

The 50th Brigade is reportedly the primary impediment to the return of internally displaced persons to the Ninewa Plain.  The 50th Brigade has systematically looted homes in Batnaya, which is struggling to recover from ISIS’s brutal rule.  The 50th Brigade has reportedly illegally seized and sold agricultural land, and the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.

WAAD QADO

Waad Qado (Qado) was designated for being a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to the leader’s or official’s tenure.

Qado is the leader of the 30th Brigade militia.  The 30th Brigade has extracted money from the population around Bartalla, in the Ninewa Plain, through extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings.  The 30th Brigade has frequently detained people without warrants, or with fraudulent warrants, and has charged arbitrary customs fees at its checkpoints.  Members of the local population allege that the 30th Brigade has been responsible for egregious offenses including physical intimidation, extortion, robbery, kidnapping, and rape.

NAWFAL HAMMADI AL-SULTAN

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan (al-Sultan) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Sultan is a former governor of Ninewa Province, Iraq.  Following a ferry accident in Ninewa’s capital, Mosul, that killed nearly 100 people, Iraq’s parliament removed al-Sultan from office.  The ferry, loaded to five times its capacity, had been carrying families to an island on the Tigris River when it sank.  Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the former governor, who fled shortly after the accident.

In a letter to Members of Parliament after the ferry accident, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi accused al-Sultan of negligence and dereliction of duty, and said there was evidence the former governor was misusing funds and abusing his power.  On March 27, 2019, the Ninewa investigations court said the former governor and several other officials were suspected of misusing their powers and wasting public money.

Al-Sultan has faced allegations of widespread corruption since 1994.  He was removed from his first post as mayor because of corruption and a conviction on smuggling charges.  In 2017, the United Nations Development Program suspended reconstruction projects after multiple allegations of al-Sultan siphoning off United Nations funds.

AHMED AL-JUBOURI

Ahmed al-Jubouri (al-Jubouri) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Jubouri, also known as Abu Mazin, is a former governor of Salah al-Din, Iraq, and current Member of Parliament who has engaged in corruption.  Al-Jubouri was removed as governor and sentenced to prison in July 2017 upon conviction for misusing authority and federal funds and appropriating land for personal use.  Al-Jubouri has since been released.  Al-Jubouri has been known to protect his personal interests by accommodating Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control.

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, has reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

To date, OFAC has sanctioned 113 individuals and entities pursuant to E.O. 13818.  These designations are in addition to the numerous human rights- or corruption-related designations Treasury has issued under various other sanctions authorities.  In total, since January 2017, Treasury has taken action against more than 680 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse and/or corruption.  The Treasury Department has also published advisories to U.S. financial institutions on human rights abuses enabled by corrupt senior foreign political figures and their financial facilitators that can be found here, as well as advisories related to some of the programs listed above, which can be found here.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

By Ahmed Mousa Jiyad.

Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

SOMO Discloses Data on its Spot Sales[1]

In an unprecedented move, SOMO and the Ministry of Oil-MoO disclosed recently detailed data on quantities and revenues of crude oil sold directly through “electronic auction” or “spot trading” to named international oil buyers-IOBs; this occurs after more than 20 months of my constant personal follow-up and communications on the issue.

The disclosure shows that during the period between the start of June 2017 and end of May 2019 total spot sales reached more than 76.4 million barrels-mbs, generating total revenues of more than $4.5 billion, including additional/extra revenues (due to premium over official selling price-OSP) of more than $59.6 million.

Undoubtedly, the background and details of this disclosure testify the importance of this development and render it as valuable precedent that must be commended and maintained, but with improved formalized modality.

Data analysis indicates, on the one hand, the increasing importance of this type of spot trading in generating “additional revenues”; but on the other hand, such temptations of additional short-term gains could lead to negative impact on SOMO’s strategic and marketing positioning in the medium and long terms, which could cause significant erosion in future oil exports and revenues.

Therefore, in the light of the analysis, it was suggested to the concerned authorities to seriously explore the feasibility of establishing an electronic platform for spot sales, within SOMO (SOMO-Spot), which works exclusively in spot sales of the Iraqi crude oil under terms, conditions and mechanisms that adhere strictly to three principles: competitiveness, transparency (of structural-operational governance) and efficiency.

Due to the importance of the topic, this article includes a brief background of the issue; reviews details of the data provided by SOMO; provides some analytical notes and finally proposes a special platform for the sale of Iraqi oil under competitive transparent spot trading modality.

Highlighting and Follow-up Spot Sales Issue- a brief history

I have dealt with this subject in detail using statistics and official data and I had direct contacts with SOMO on the matter. Also I shared my writings (in Arabic and English) within my extended professional network, which comprises a very large number (over 2000) of senior government officials, current and former ministers and parliamentarians, specialists, academics, research centers, civil society organizations, media, oil companies among others. Moreover, my contributions have been, and are usually, posted on many websites, others’ networks and social media channels inside and outside of Iraq.

I raised the issue for the first time at the beginning of September 2017[2]. Then I received a request from the Ministry of Oil to make a presentation on the subject (in addition to my other two papers that were already accepted by the Conference Committee) before the “Iraqi Investment Conference” scheduled, then, to be held in Baghdad on  22-23 October of that year.[3] The conference was not held as it was abruptly canceled under the directives of former Oil Minister, Jabbar Luaibi, without giving reasons (according to official correspondence I received from the Conference’ Preparatory Committee dated 26 October 2017).

The cancellation of the above-mentioned conference seemed to have prompted SOMO to act; they immediately sent official letter inviting me to Baghdad to discuss, with its leadership and senior specialists, what I wrote on the subject. But, for several reasons, I was unable to go and, alternatively, I proposed holding the meeting through Skype facilities. That was done on 12 December 2017, and the session lasted for three hours with spot trading was at the center of the discussed topics, and my emphases on the necessity of providing more details on this new activity by SOMO.[4]

Instead of providing more data and details on spot sales, the Ministry suddenly terminated the publication of the only data, i.e. total revenues from spot sales, in its monthly production and consumption report, from January 2018 onwards (again during Jabbar Luaibi period!!).

That termination and non-action by SOMO prompted me to raise the matter again. That was done through my article of 21 March 2019, which it called on the Ministry and SOMO to provide explanation about these spot sales and their related revenues.[5]

Immediately afterwards, on 23 March, I received a detailed formal letter signed by SOMO’ DG. But that letter did not provide material evidence and did not provide enough or convincing answers to the questions rose in my article. I, on the same day, prepared and posted detailed letter to SOMO’s DG stating exactly what information SOMO was supposed to do for clarifying the status of those sales.

It is worth mentioning in this juncture that the Ministry posted on its website on 25 March a selected “part” of the letter that was sent to me (referred to above) by SOMO.[6]

It took SOMO three months to prepare detailed data on the subject and both SOMO and the Ministry finally yielded by posting the data on their websites on June 23.

SOMO data and what it comprises

The data was prepared by SOMO’s Commercial Financial Commission– CFC and were presented through four tables without any explanatory notes or clarifications.

Table 1 provides details of each crude oil shipments sold through auctions at Dubai Mercantile Exchange-DME during 2017; these details include: the month, buyer/company name, shipment number, date of sale and date of loading, type/brand of crude oil, quantity, price premium (dollars a barrel), the additional realized revenues, actual selling price per barrel and total revenue.

The quantity of crude oil sold amounted to 1.959 million barrels-mbs with total revenues of about $999 million, including additional revenue of about $13.4 million.

Table 2 provides details of crude oil shipments sold through the DME in 2018: the sold crude was more than 7.5 mbs with total revenues of about $465 million including additional revenue of more than $2 million.

Table 3 titled “quantities and deliveries of crude oil shipments that were sold at a price premium and additional revenue during 2017/2018” shows that sold crude reached about 16 mbs with total revenues of about $920 million including additional revenue of more than $7.9 million.

Finally, Table 4 shows “quantities and deliveries of crude oil shipments sold at a price premium and additional revenue during 2019”; by the end of April.

Crude oil reached more than 20 mbs with total revenues of about $1.251 billion comprising additional revenue of over $20.5 million.

In its May report, SOMO presented a table on “quantities and deliveries of crude oil shipments sold at a price premium and additional revenue during May 2019.” The amount of crude oil sold in May was about 13.3 mbs with total revenues of more than $913 million including additional revenue of about $16 million.

Analysis and Assessment of SOMO’s Disclosure

This section highlights the positive aspects of this disclosure, identifies what could reduce or question its credibility that should be addressed and warns against possible danger of shortsightedness that favors short-term financial gains at the expense of the strategic marketing positioning of SOMO and its share in the competitive international oil market in the medium and long terms.

First: an important precedent that establishes necessary requirements and commitments.

Through my continuous monitoring and documenting the activities of and developments in the oil sector and SOMO for more than three decades, I assert this disclosure is very important precedent that deserves appreciation and support. Moreover, this disclosure is instrumental that could help in the following:

  • It constitutes the material basis and minimum threshold for quality, detail and comprehensiveness of data relating to activities of SOMO (and the Ministry of Oil) that must be provided in the future on a monthly basis;
  • The necessity of expanding this disclosure to include not only the spot sales of crude oil, but also the regular monthly sales of crude oil pursuant to the annually concluded “Term Contracts” between SOMO with it clients of international oil buyers-IOBs;
  • This level of disclosure enhances transparency in monitoring of oil export revenues and greatly facilitates verification and data reconciliation to ensure the reliability and accuracy of such data;
  • SOMO data can be considered as example and model to be followed by other national companies affiliated with the Ministry to achieve advanced levels of transparency and oil sector governance. It is worth mentioning here that EITI Standard 2019 adopted at the World Conference of EITI held in Paris last month requires a lot of such detailed information and data disclosure.

Second: The Follow-up and Communication Bear Fruit

When I raised the matter publically (as mentioned above) we did not know the exact volumes and details of spot sale operations. Now and after about two years of follow-up and direct contacts with SOMO,  everyone knows (or can know) that the total of these sales have, between the start of June 2017 and the end of May 2019, exceeded 76.4 mbs, generating total revenues of more than $4.5 billion, including $ 59.6 million of additional revenues- due to price premium.

This means that had the issue was not raised and followed-up, SOMO and the Ministry probably do not disclose these large quantities and huge returns resulting from these spot sales;

This case also shows that individual, professional and objective follow-up, based on official/formal statistics and reliable sources, can encourage (or force) official authorities (in this case SOMO and the Ministry of Oil) to respond and communicate with oil experts and specialists from outside the oil sector.

At the same time, it is vital to ensure the sustainability and continuity of this disclosure and expand it to include all the activities of the oil sector, taking into account the specificity of the sub-sectors of petroleum and various departments of the Ministry.

Third: Transparency Concerns Regarding Direct Spot Trading

Despite the importance of this disclosure and the need for its continuity, it is vital to take note of its apparent weaknesses and shortcomings that should be addressed.

  1. SOMO data refers to two types of tables: the first relates to the details of crude oil sold electronically through the DME during 2017 and 2018; the second did not include any information of how the sales were done and the name of the platform/stock exchange auction from December 2017 until the end of May 2019. This lack of information shed doubt on and questions the credibility of the ministry’s announcement (referred to above), which stated that all sales were done “by electronic auction on the DME, Platts..”, while SOMO tables make no reference at all to Platts or to any other platform for online auction. Unless SOMO identifies the name of the auction platform, it could lead to the belief that SOMO has actually carried out these operations directly with the concerned IOBs in a non-competitive way. This suspicion of irregularity is enhanced by the fact that “the date of sale” for each and every deal was not mentioned. All the above are symptoms of irregularity, inside-trading and thus constitute a lack of transparency in the process, which raises doubts about its credibility and thus opens the door for suspecting the possibility of corruption;
  2. When comparing the components of these two types of tables, the only difference between them is that the first type includes a column entitled “Date of sale/date of loading” for each shipment of crude oil sold on the DME, while the second type includes “loading date” only. This is an additional and important flaw in the transparency of the immediate direct deal mechanism;
  3. The DME provides information regarding each auction in terms of the date and time of auction; the duration of bidding during the auction; the number of companies that paid the participation fees; the number of companies that actually took part in the auction; the number of offers made during the auction and finally the highest price premium among others. As for the spot deals done by SOMO outside DME, SOMO did not provide any of the above information!!!

Fourth: Cautionary Remarks against the Ambiguity and Temptations of the “Additional Revenues”

SOMO’s earning, of extra revenues (due to premium over OSP) through spot deals, of over $59.6 million during the period between the beginning of June 2017 and the end of May 2019 is good addition to state treasury.

However, caution should be exercised as adopting this financial indicator (i.e. additional revenue) and promoting it as indication of efficiency and achievement may provide cover-up for irregular (or even illegal) practices that may lead to suspicion of corruption, especially when such spot trading was conducted with weak, or even without, supportive material evidence. Hence, the integrity, competitiveness and transparency of the process could be seriously tarnished. Simply stated, additional revenues could occur, hypothetically as well as in reality, parallel with giving bribe through splitting the premium.

Additional revenues also indicate giving preference to short-term financial gains over and against strategic positioning at medium and long term interests that may cause or pose costly strategic losses.

The fear from preference for short term gains can be exhibited by the following comparisons.

The following analysis is premised on the comparison between the quantities of crude oil sold through spot deals and total crude oil exports in the same months in which spot deals were done.

  • Total crude oil sold under spot trading since the beginning of June 2017 to the end of May 2019 was more than 76.4 mbs, which constitutes about 3.9% of the total oil exports in the same months in which spot deals were done (or loaded on tankers). However, if we look at the annual pattern, the above ratio increased constantly and significantly from 2.6% in 2017 to 3.4% in 2018 to 6.4% in 2019;
  • Looking at the monthly comparisons we find that this percentage has risen (but at fluctuating fashion) from 3.6% in January 2018 to 12% in May 2019. But what draws attention (in addition to this increase of more than three folds) is that the increase or decrease in spot deals was in some months does not corresponds (in direction and volume) with the increase or decrease in total oil exports in many months. For example, spot sales in November 2018 increased by 3.342 mbs over previous deals in April 2018, while the increase in total oil exports for those months was only 1.117 mbs. In another example, while total volume of oil sales decreased, the volume of spot deals increased. Total sales in April 2018 decreased by 6.853mbs from previous month, while spot sales increased by more than 1 mbs during the same months. The third example is on the decline in both the total and spot sales, but the decline in the latter was much lower than in the former; total sales decreased by 11.723 mbs in February 2019 compared to the previous month, while the corresponding decrease in spot sales was only 522 thousand barrels.
  • Spot deals of the Kirkuk oil blend presents a very worrying example. During the period between the beginning of December 2018 and end May 2019, 12 shipments were sold by spot trading covering a total of 5.25 mbs, or about 33% of the total exports of Kirkuk oil during the same period. But on a monthly basis we find that this percentage has increased continuously from about 24.8% to more than double that, or 54.5% between January and May of this year. This is a trend whose consequences may be underestimated or overlooked as a result of increasing sales of spot deals in a direct and non-competitive manner as explained above. It may be useful to recall what former SOMO DG and one of the proponents of spot trading (i.e., Dr. Falah Al Ameri) reportedly said, “We lost our market in Europe, it weakened, especially Kirkuk grade”[7]. But, does selling this high percentage of Kirkuk oil in this way deepen the loss of the European market for Iraqi oil or recover it?

These and other examples demonstrate that the “additional revenue temptations” of spot deals make such deal preferable at the expense of meeting the needs of the IOBs, which are the traditional customers to buy Iraqi oil. The advantage given by SOMO’s spot sales could negatively impact the reputation and credibility of SOMO and the confidence in its commitment in honouring the obligations of the “Annual Term Contracts” that are concluded between those IOBs and SOMO.

Proposals for Discussion and Considerations

In order to capture the fiscal advantages of spot sale in a more regulated and coordinated manner and to avoid the possible negative impacts of this trading on the annual term-contract modality that has been adopted by SOMO for decades, I suggest the followings:

  • Detailed thorough professional study or a background/discussion paper should be done to evaluate SOMO’ experience in crude oil spot trading since the commencement of this new activity in April 2017 to date. The purpose is to determine the positive and negative aspects, the operational and procedural requirements that were adopted and diagnose lessons learned and explore possible scenarios to achieve good results for Iraq;
  • SOMO, the Ministry and other representatives at SOMO Ministerial Committee should determine specific percentage of oil exports that could be earmarked for spot trading. This percentage, based on the type of crude oil, could be determined annually (in parallel to the practice of the annual term-contracts established by SOMO for several years) and monthly (in parallel with the practice of the monthly Ministerial Committee decisions implemented by SOMO for several years by now). These allocations for spot trading should be fully, timely and publically announced, particularly on SOMO website, at specific time intervals;
  • Assessing the feasibility of setting up SOMO’s own spot trading electronic platform, e.g., SOMO Spot Trading-SST, that offers Iraqi crudes exclusively- currently including Basra light, Basra heavy, Kirkuk blend and Qayara oil. The proposed platform, i.e., SST could also deal with petroleum products such as condensate, naphtha, NGL, LPG and other products in addition to oil produced in Kurdistan (in case of agreement between the federal government and the provincial government in implementation of the annual budget laws). New oil grades can be added in the future (such as Basra medium, Al-Yamama oil- known for high quality/API etc.,) in the light of oilfield development projects currently on implementation;
  • The proposed platform (SST) may be managed either within the existing SOMO’ administrative structure or by the establishment of a subsidiary company (e.g., SOMO-SPOT). The conditions, controls and practical and organizational procedures of the proposed platform for spot trading must be well elaborated and premised on three fundamental principles: competitiveness, transparency and efficiency. Direct spot sale to oil buyers without bidding should be strictly prohibited and constitute punishable offence;
  • The governance of SST and its management should be subject to the same control and oversight by the Ministerial Committee with additional openness and answerability.

 

[1] This article was originally written in Arabic, shared with my professional network of contacts and posted on many websites such as: https://www.akhbaar.org/home/2019/7/259802.html and

http://www.tellskuf.com/index.php/mq/83238-uj065.html

[2] Debating SOMO’ TransformationThe English text posted on IBN and AlKhbaar on 5 Sept 2017 http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2017/09/05/expert-blog-debating-somo-transformation/  ; http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2017/9/233074.html and the Arabic text on http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2017/9/233297.html

[3] https://oil.gov.iq/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1653

[4] Reforming and Transforming SOMO- A Follow Up, posted on IBN on 13 Dec 2017 http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2017/12/13/reforming-and-transforming-somo/ and on Al-Akhbaar 13 Dec 2017 http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2017/12/238018.html

[5] My article can be found and accessed through the link   http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2019/3/255755.html

[6] https://oil.gov.iq/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2276

[7] As reported by Iraq Oil Report-IOR, 24 May 2017

Click here to download the full article in pdf format.

Mr Jiyad is an independent development consultant, scholar and Associate with the former Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES), London. He was formerly a senior economist with the Iraq National Oil Company and Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, Chief Expert for the Council of Ministers, Director at the Ministry of Trade, and International Specialist with UN organizations in Uganda, Sudan and Jordan. He is now based in Norway (Email: mou-jiya(at)online.no, Skype ID: Ahmed Mousa Jiyad). Read more of Mr Jiyad’s biography here.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor denounced the kidnapping of a civil activist and prominent academic in Basra province in Iraq, as well as the arrest campaigns carried out by the Iraqi security services against activists leading peaceful protests against corruption in the country.

According to local sources, Kazem Al-Sahlani was kidnapped because of his prominent role in anti-corruption demonstrations. for several hours before being released. He was held in captivity for several hours before being released in the northern desert of Basra province, from where he was able to reach a local police checkpoint.

More here.

(Source: Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Basra protests build in Iraq as sub-standard services persist

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Iraqi Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khatteeb talked about the situation of Iraq’s electricity sector amid tense US-Iran relations.

He discussed the waiver timeline that Washington granted Baghdad to keep buying Iranian gas and mentioned his fear that some parties are politicizing the electricity sector in Iraq.

Click here to read the full story.

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Basra protests build in Iraq as sub-standard services persist

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Iraqi Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khatteeb talked about the situation of Iraq’s electricity sector amid tense US-Iran relations.

He discussed the waiver timeline that Washington granted Baghdad to keep buying Iranian gas and mentioned his fear that some parties are politicizing the electricity sector in Iraq.

Click here to read the full story.

Five years on from ISIL ‘caliphate’ proclamation in Iraq, Security Council makes first-ever visit

The UN Security Council has concluded a first-ever visit to Iraq on Saturday, five years on from the proclamation, by the ISIL terrorist group, of a “caliphate” in the country.

The visit, which also took in a trip to Kuwait, saw the members meet senior government, UN and humanitarian officials to discuss the development of Iraq, the humanitarian situation, and the ongoing security challenges faced by the Government.

Council members noted that the visit underscored their support for Iraq’s continued post-conflict recovery, and reconciliation efforts to meet the needs of all Iraqis, and emphasized the importance of the sovereignty and security of Iraq.

They also addressed the importance of funding the recovery, in meetings with World Bank representative Ghassan Khoja, which covered the effective follow-up of international pledges, including those made at the 2018 Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq.

Effective government and corruption issues raised

Recent political developments in Iraq, including progress towards the full formation of the Government, were welcomed by the Security Council members, who recognized the importance of an administration that upholds the values of the country’s constitution, responding to the needs of all Iraqis, including women, youth, children, displaced persons, and persons belonging to all ethnic and religious groups.

The engagement of the national Government in resolving outstanding issues with the Kurdish Regional Government, was also singled out for praise by the members, and the issue of corruption was raised, particularly efforts towards implementing the 2018-2022 National Government program, which includes addressing corruption, and strengthening viable state institutions.

Humanitarian and security concerns

The humanitarian situation, including the delivery of basic services, remains challenging in Iraq, and the members underscored the importance of all persons internally displaced by conflict, including in areas liberated from ISIL. The need for economic reform, investment, and regional economic integration to better address the aspirations and concerns of the Iraqi people, was also noted.

Support for the UN Assistance Mission for IRAQ (UNAMI) mandate to support and assist the Government of Iraq to promote inclusive political dialogue; national, regional and community-level reconciliation and cooperation; and security and justice reform, was reaffirmed by the Security Council representatives. They also commended the Government of Iraq’s efforts, in association with local and regional authorities, to counter terrorism and encouraged them to further their coordination.

A UN investigative team set up to hold ISIL accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, must remain independent and impartial, ensure its Iraqi members benefit from international expertise on the team, and make every effort to share knowledge and technical assistance with Iraq, the members insisted.

They added that the team, UNITAD – the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL – must operate with full respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its jurisdiction over crimes committed in its territory.

(Sources: UN, Iraq Ministry of Foreign Affairs)