Iraq min­is­ter out­lines prob­lems be­hind elec­tric­ity woes

The China Post - - BUSINESS -

Iraq’s elec­tric­ity min­is­ter out­lined to par­lia­ment Satur­day a slew of prob­lems that have con­trib­uted to abysmal power ser­vices, which have sparked wide­spread public anger and protests.

Qassem al-Fah­dawi, who was be­ing quizzed in par­lia­ment on Iraq’s elec­tric­ity woes since he took of­fice last year, crit­i­cized his pre­de­ces­sors for “fo­cus­ing al­most ex­clu­sively on pro­duc­tion” at the ex­pense of de­vel­op­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion net­work to raise out­put.

The main ex­am­ple was Bagh­dad, he said, where the grid’s ca­pac­ity was a max­i­mum of 3,500 megawatts, re­gard­less of pro­duc­tion lev­els.

He re­ported a ma­jor pro­duc- tion short­fall through­out Iraq, with de­mand this sum­mer reach­ing 21,000 megawatts while out­put was only 13,400.

Among a host of other prob­lems were a ma­jor fund­ing short­fall, more than 40,000 nonessen­tial em­ploy­ees and a fuel short­age for gas-pow­ered plants.

Se­cu­rity is also an is­sue, with elec­tric­ity in­fra­struc­ture ex­posed to at­tacks by mil­i­tants.

Fah­dawi said the min­istry has pre­pared var­i­ous short- term plans to ad­dress the elec­tric­ity prob­lems, es­pe­cially in Bagh­dad.

“But that re­quires con­certed ef­forts by the en­tire state and not just the min­istry,” he said.

Fol­low­ing Fah­dawi’s re­marks and a sub­se­quent vote, par­lia­ment speaker Salim al- Juburi an­nounced that the min­is­ter’s an­swers had been sat­is­fac­tory and the mat­ter was closed.

Juburi had threat­ened Fah­dawi with a no-con­fi­dence vote if he did not ap­pear by Satur­day.

The min­is­ter said dur­ing the ses­sion that his de­lay in do­ing so was due to him need­ing more time to pre­pare an­swers to par­lia­ment’s ques­tions.

Amid a ma­jor heat wave that has seen tem­per­a­tures top 50 de­grees Cel­sius, thou­sands of peo­ple have protested in Bagh­dad and cities in the Shi­ite south to vent their anger and pres­sure the author­i­ties to make changes.

They have railed against the poor qual­ity of ser­vices, as power cuts leave just a few hours of gov­ern­ment- supplied elec­tric­ity a day dur­ing the scorch­ing sum­mer heat.

Their de­mands were given a boost when top Shi­ite cleric Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al- Sis­tani called on Aug. 7 for Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi to take “dras­tic mea­sures” against cor­rup­tion.

Par­lia­ment has signed off on a re­form plan pro­posed by Abadi as well as ad­di­tional mea­sures, and the prime min­is­ter has be­gun is­su­ing or­ders for changes, in­clud­ing cut­ting 11 cab­i­net posts and slash­ing the bloated num­ber of guards for of­fi­cials.

But even with pop­u­lar sup­port and back­ing from Sis­tani, the fact that par­ties across Iraq’s po­lit­i­cal spec­trum ben­e­fit from graft is a ma­jor ob­sta­cle to the nascent re­form ef­fort.

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