The Iraqi Ministry of Planning has opened a new Procurement Help Desk to streamline the tendering process.

Speaking at the opening of the facility, US ambassador Stuart E Jones (pictured) made the following statement:

Thank you for those excellent remarks and thank you for your support to the USAID and embassy teams that have been working so closely with the Ministry of Planning.

“I’m really honored and pleased to be here today with you. And, I’m delighted to celebrate the opening of the Procurement Help Desk; this, of course is a project of the Ministry of Planning in partnership with the U.S. Government.

“Let me tell you about the way things used to be. Before this Help Desk, private contractors and government entities had no place to turn to for guidance on public procurement. Each ministry had its own specific methods of procurement. These processes were often confusing and opaque – and overwhelmed in red tape.

“Let me share this one example. Previously, the Ministry of Electricity applied a complicated procurement process that required 28 steps, this involved more than 15 departments, and took 10 months, and this was for every tender to be prepared and awarded. International suppliers lost confidence in the procurement system and, as a result, spare parts were not delivered on time or were of inferior quality. Vital electricity projects were stalled.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Now, thanks to the Minister of Planning and his team, there are multiple layers of support for government procurers. The Help Desk provides a library of internationally accepted and common standard bidding documents for other ministries to use. Now, Ministry of Planning staff can ensure that all local and central government authorities apply international standards to contract tenders.

“So, going back to the Ministry of Electricity; with support from the Help Desk, the Ministry of Electricity was able to cut out 23 of the 28 steps in its procurement process. Total procurement time went from 10 months to two months.

“This is a game changer. It sends the message that the government of Iraq is a reliable partner, it sends the message that government bidders are going to get fair treatment, and it sends a message that projects are going to get completed in a speedy fashion.

“Already now, 30 pilot tenders with 17 government institutions have benefited from the Help Desk.

“Transparent procurement creates jobs. Transparent procurement means completion of priority capital investment projects. It means the infrastructure that Iraqi citizens need and use every day – roads, buildings, and power plants – can be contracted fairly and completed more quickly and delivered to higher standards.

“This is exactly the kind of reform that his Excellency, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called for. This is exactly the kind of reform that the people of Iraq want. The Help Desk is now fully in Iraqi hands. And, this is only the beginning of the quest to limit corruption and improve business and investment in Iraq.

“So, your Excellency, I want to thank you for your leadership, for your guidance, for your energy behind this project. I want to thank the team here at the Ministry of Planning for guiding this, for driving this and I want to thank my colleagues at USAID and the Tarabot team for supporting the Ministry of Planning in achieving this objective.”

(Source: Embassy of the United States)

By Wassim Bassem for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s government, society struggle with widespread bribery

With shocking innocence, Ali al-Sultani from Babil, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor what he does to have official documents dealt with in state agencies.

“I often carry large sums of money and hand them over to employees in the state agencies, where I go to take care of my affairs such as transferring the ownership of a property, obtaining civil status cards for my children or amending their school grades,” Sultani said.

Sultani does not consider what he is doing “bribery,” but described it as “a token of gratitude for the employee who gives me special assistance.”

Bribery is considered morally wrong in Iraq, and it is against the law and social and religious norms. For this reason, the word “bribery” is often replaced with less offensive terms that legitimize the act.

Sociologist Ali al-Khafaji told Al-Monitor, “Bribery has become commonplace in Iraq, and it is covered up with justifications or special arrangements.” He added, “Many Iraqis have grown accustomed to visiting a [state agency] employee at home or in an agreed-upon place to give him a commission for expediting an administrative procedure and overcoming legal obstacles.”

Another Babil resident told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “I got my driver’s license while sitting at home, after paying $600 to an employee in the traffic police department.”

The Commission of Integrity confirmed the extent to which bribery is present in Iraqi state agencies in a statement it issued Feb. 1: “Offices in Baghdad that issue driver’s licenses top the list of bribed parties. There are indications of bribery in all state agencies, and these acts exceed 3% of the [regular] administrative transactions.”

To test the phenomenon of bribery, Al-Monitor met with a retired employee who was willing to help in obtaining a passport; he asked for $400 to “spare us the hassle of waiting for months as well as the trouble of [filling out] papers.”

By John Lee.

Iranian Economy Minister Ali Tayyebnia said that trade between the two countries is currently estimated at $12 billion when transit and tourism are taken into account, and that Tehran and Baghdad expect to increase the figure to $20 billion in the near future.

The statement followed a meeting with Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran.

We hope this trip will lead to practical outcomes in the development of Iran-Iraq bilateral ties,” the Iraqi finance minister added.

(Source: BasNews)

By John Lee.

According to BasNews, the Iraqi parliamentary report into the fall of Mosul reveals that Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL) militants were levying taxes at every level throughout Nineveh Province prior to the capture of Iraq’s second largest city in June last year.

The IS group was generating up to $11 million every month by controlling everything from vegetable wholesalers to petroleum producers.

Additionally, the salaries of 300 municipal government employees were ‘taxed’, bringing in revenues of over $60,000 per month, with doctors having to pay the group $300 (350,000 Iraqi dinars) per month.

The wholesale vegetable market alone reportedly raised $200,000 per month, while operators of private generators paid $200 per month to remain in business.

(Source: BasNews)

(Extortion image via Shutterstock)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Criminals In Uniform: Baghdad’s Dodgy, Booming Business in Military Clothing

Thanks to the current security crisis, there are so many Iraqis now playing a military role in Iraq that it is hard to know who is part of an official government body and therefore has some authority, and who isn’t. Making this even more difficult is the fact that military uniforms have become more ubiquitous than ever.

Ever since the extremist group known as the Islamic State sparked a nationwide security crisis and the mobilisation of thousands of volunteer fighters, the uniform sales business has been booming. And sales are largely unregulated.

Military uniforms are something of a fashion and Iraqis will often wear them on special occasions, whether they’re in a military unit or not.

But now locals say criminals are using the easily available military clothing as a kind of disguise, that allows them to commit crimes with impunity. Any gang can roam the city streets as though they were a military force, Baghdad locals complain, and over the past few months kidnapping and robbery by such gangs has increased. It is impossible to tell who is who anymore, they say.

A military uniform, often made in China, costs around IQD50,000 (around US$44). But usually the quality of the cloth isn’t very high and the uniform discolours and fades after time on duty out in the harsh Iraqi sun. This is why real soldiers and members of government-approved militias also buy equipment from the stores that sell uniforms and other security equipment. But ordinary people can also easily buy this type of clothing.

There are a lot of small shops in central Baghdad, near the headquarters of the country’s Ministry of the Interior, selling military uniforms and other gear. After the highest Shiite Muslim religious authorities in the country called upon Iraqis to defend the country against the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group last year, the number of these shops grew. And every day government officials go past the stores.

By John Lee.

On Thursday the Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi held a meeting in his office with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to discuss projects to provide drinking water to the province of Basra.

During the meeting, there was a follow-up on the water desalination project in al-Hartha in Basra.

Dr. Abadi stressed to JICA the need to complete this project on time, and to overcome obstacles including the provision of adequate allocations to finance the project, which will be presented during the next session of the Council of Ministers for approval.

Relatedly, Dr. Abadi called for the formation of a high-level technical team to assess the al-Bad’a Channel project and quickly provide a report on how to increase the amount of water transferred to the purification projects for the people of Basra, and the team will start work immediately.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

By John Lee.

The lastest phase of the Iraqi heatwave is expected to peak on Thursday.

Forecasters are expecting highs of 51 degrees Celsius in most southern cities, and 49 degrees in Baghdad.

They are also expecting higher-than-usual humidity.

The Iraqi government recently introduced a policy of declaring public holidays when temperatures exceed 50 degrees.

(Source: Haberler)

(Heatwave image via Shutterstock)

By John Lee.

Imperial Tobacco Group, Europe’s second-biggest tobacco company, has reported that its revenues and profits for the nine months to the end of June were reduced by difficulties with its Iraq business.

In a statement to the markets, the company said:

Underlying tobacco net revenue was flat but grew 1 per cent excluding the impact in Iraq … Growth Market net revenue was down 1 per cent, held back by Iraq which masked growth of 3 per cent in the rest of the Division …

Underlying volumes were down 6 per cent, impacted by the political and security situation in Iraq which continues to deteriorate. Excluding this impact, underlying volumes were down 4 per cent, slightly better than industry volumes in our footprint which were down 4.5 per cent.

Philip Gorham, an analyst at Morningstar, told Bloomberg that as Iraq is a small market for Imperial, the business there “must have been obliterated … Distribution has become very difficult, while other products are coming in from Turkey and other places.

The company’s brands include Gauloises, Gitanes, Davidoff and Rizla.

(Sources: Imperial Tobacco, Bloomberg Business)

(Tobacco image via Shutterstock)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Russian Landmarks Disappearing: In Iraqi Kurdistan, The End of an Era For Soviet-Made Road Warriors

The Iraqi city of Kalar, south of Sulaymaniyah, has an odd nickname: “the Moscow of Iraq”. And some locals say that it got this name because there are so many Russian cars in the city. One of the most prominent of these is the UAZ-469, a sort of Russian military utility vehicle.

The utility vehicle, which arrived in the country during a time of particularly good relations between Iraq and Russia – at the timealmost every Iraqi household had Russian-made products – was particularly suitable for travelling on the plains and highlands here.

And as a result of its suitability for the terrain the UAZ-469 and its predecessor, the GAZ-69, were popular among locals for a long time, which was also the reason they continued to be sold here.

At a recent ceremony to celebrate renewed Russian-Iraqi Kurdish cooperation in May, Russian attendees were surprised and pleased to find the 70-year-old relics still on the roads.

But now, after being one of the only means of transport between various villages in this area for years, the Russian cars are disappearing. Local officials in the traffic department cannot confirm how many UAZ-469s or GAZ-69s are still on Kalar’s streets but dealers say there are now only a few dozen left – the ones that are still here are still being bought and sold by locals. Prices vary but have been known to go as high as US$10,000 for one of the best kept examples in Kalar.

The cars hold a lot of memories for locals. “We used to all get in the car and drive around the city, singing out the windows,” says Araz Faeq, a teacher in his forties from Kalar. “When we were students we used to ride on the boot,” he recalls. “And there were a lot of these cars bringing guests to my wedding in my village.”