Government moves to rationalize food aid system

The Iraqi government has moved to try and rationalize the state-run food aid system by stopping the well-off from benefiting from it. The aim is to ease pressure on the budget and help the most needy, a government statement said on 16 June.

“The Cabinet has ordered all ministries to supply the Trade Ministry with the names of people whose [monthly] income is more than 1.5 million Iraqi dinars [about US$1,300] so as to stop them from receiving food subsidies,” the statement said.

"The Ministry of Trade will then draw up a plan by which the food rationing system’s financial allocations in the federal budget will be directed to the neediest people," it said, without giving a start date.

Iraq’s food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.


Dhia Abdul-Rahman Mohammed, a Baghdad-based economist, hailed the move but had some regrets: “It will save both poor people and the government, although it came too late after all the squandering of the past years… The new move is the best solution, but yet more stringent measures are needed to fight corruption that might occur in determining who is eligible for the food subsidies."

He said the government should punish those who lie about their incomes.

On 30 May the former Iraqi trade minister, Abdul-Falah al-Sudani, was arrested and charged with corruption and embezzlement, mainly in relation to food imports for the PDS.

The minister’s brother and another official were also arrested while seven other officials, including another brother, who are all wanted for the same alleged offences, are still at large.

The Iraqi government spent about $7.3 billion to keep the programme running in 2008, but less than this amount was allocated for the 2009 budget, according to finance and trade ministry sources. Iraq's oil revenues account for 95 percent of the budget.

Monthly PDS parcels are supposed to contain rice (3kg per person); sugar (2kg per person); cooking oil (1.25kg or one litre per person); flour (9kg per person); milk for adults (250g per person); tea (200g per person); beans (250g per person); children's milk (1.8kg per child); soap (250g per person); detergents (500g per person); and tomato paste (500g per person).