Iraqi Prime Minister Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has fired his electricity minister, who is under investigation for allegations that he failed to follow government guidelines in signing US$1.7 billion in deals with two foreign companies to build power stations.
Raad Shalal signed the deals in question with the Canadian Alliance for Power Generation Equipment and German firm Maschinebau Halberstadt. The Canadian company was awarded a US$1.2 billion contract last month to build 10 power stations with a total capacity of 1,000 megawatts while the German firm won a US$500 million contract.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said the deals violated government guidelines because the two companies do not possess the financial and technical capabilities required to qualify as manufacturers for this type of project. He said the two companies presented false documents about their financial status and technical capabilities and the contracts were annulled on Thursday.
The sacked minister was nominated by a top rival to the prime minister, raising questions about whether his firing late on Saturday night and the allegations of financial misconduct are politically motivated.
Allegations of corruption are nothing new within the electricity sector. Former electricity minister Ayham al-Samarraie was jailed in a corruption investigation, but escaped in December 2006 and fled to the US, where he also holds citizenship.
Last summer, then-electricity minister Karim Waheed stepped down after demonstrations by citizens complaining about the few hours of electricity they received a day turned deadly and two people were killed.
Electricity problems have plagued every Iraqi government since the 2003 US-led invasion, with Iraqis using availability of power as a measure of their quality of life. Both the US and Iraq have spent hundreds of millions of US dollars trying to build up the network, but the lack of power remains one of the main complaints of ordinary Iraqis.
Shalal is an independent, but was nominated by the Sunni Muslim-backed Iraqiya bloc led by al-Maliki’s rival, Ayad Allawi. The prime minister and Allawi have been at loggerheads since elections in March last year over which of their blocs has the right to form the government.
The bloc “is awaiting the results of the investigation, and it is still committed to hold its ministers accountable for any corruption charges,” Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoun al-Damlouji said.