IRIN Report – 2006-05-18 23:42:54
BAGHDAD (May 8, 2006) — Residents of Wasit province, some 160km south of Baghdad, have accused local officials of corruption and collaboration with black-market fuel dealers.
“Local officials are ordering fuel stations to close as early as 3:00 p.m. on the pretence that the security situation is bad,” said Jassim Mohamed, 47, a taxi driver. “But in reality, they’re encouraging these stations to sell fuel on the black market. Officials are making money by creating the crisis.”
On 4 May, about 150 angry protestors took to the streets in Wasit city, the provincial capital, blocking roads and burning tyres close to a nearby a fuel station. Along with claims of corruption over fuel distribution, protestors also blamed local officials for neglecting to set up generators and provide the province with adequate electricity.
Like many Iraqis, Kudheir Yassin, 36, is forced to buy fuel from the black market to avoid hours-long queues at legitimate petrol stations. For this he pays prices that are some 60 percent higher than the highest prices at local gas stations. “I can’t waste hours in a queue and then be told to come back tomorrow,” Yassin said. “So I have to buy from the black market to supply my car and generators.”
Yassin went on to note that dozens of industrial power generators had been sent by the central government in Baghdad, “but provincial officials say they can’t operate them due to lack of fuel”. With citizens receiving an average of only five hours of electricity a day, Yassin went on to accuse local officials of being “liars and fear merchants”.
Some government institutions have at least recognised the problem. “Yes, there is corruption,” said Karim Aziz, director of the department charged with distributing oil products in the Wasit governorate. “We’re investigating some employees after we received reports that they were taking bribes from the owners of petrol stations.”
Last year, the government raised prices on gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and cooking gas to curb the rampant smuggling of oil products into neighbouring countries. The price of a litre of imported petrol was raised to the equivalent of roughly US $0.17, representing a fivefold increase on previous prices. The price of locally-produced gasoline, meanwhile, was raised about sevenfold, to the equivalent of about US $0.12 per litre.
Iraq is one of the largest producers of oil in the world.
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