Allegations of corruption and bribery against Kurdistan Region MPs push for investigation

03-07-2021 02:11
A Meeting of Kurdistan Region parliament

PEREGRAF- Surkew Mohammed

Debates between legislators in the Kurdistan Region parliament was heated up after a decision by parliament speaker Rewaz Fayaq was made to prevent parliamentarians (MPs) from individual field visits amid charges that a number of MPs were involved in "corruption and bribery".

Fayaq in a letter to the office of the Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister informed the ministries and relative commissions that MPs are not to visit residential units, contracting or investment projects alone and that it is a matter that should be left to parliamentary committees to investigate.

The letter raised voices of dissent in parliament, calling it an illegal move that punctures their dignity as MPs. This comes as parliamentary factions demanded the formation of an investigation committee to reveal names of MPs involved in bribery and corruption with companies and investors.

The legislators voiced their dissatisfaction that there’s a question mark hanging over all MPs  "because of corruption by some parliamentarians."

PEREGRAF spoke to MPs that have followed up on their cases and confirmed that they have the names of a number of MPs that are "involved in corruption and taking bribes" but explained they are waiting for the parliament’s leadership to take necessary steps and that the power is in their hands to resolve the issue.

Are MPs involved in corruption and bribery?

"This is the real question, so the parliamentary leadership must resolve it. I know how many parliamentarians from different factions are accused in this case, but the parliament leadership must prove it, considering their connections with the government and the iKurdistan Board of Investment," chair of parliament’s Integrity Committee, Shirin Amin told PEREGRAF.

Amin noted that she has obtained their names through her own personal investigation and connections. She noted that she has received "the same names from two different sources in my investigations. I am sure of three of the parliamentarians, the other two I have information on but are suspects."

"A question mark will be hanging over parliament if a parliamentarian is involved in corruption, the leadership cannot turn a blind eye," Amin continued. "I have names who are well-known as critics on the media and social media, but are corrupt behind the curtains, so it is parliament’s duty to show their true faces."

Amin said the letter by the parliament speaker "doesn’t seem to be sourced and well-documented," stating that the Kurdistan Board of Investment, the Council of Ministers and the parliament leadership are the ones with the details.

Considering the parliament leadership’s responsibility after the case is investigated, the chairwoman did not disclose the names involved in corruption and bribery.

PEREGRAF spoke with MPs from different parties who more or less have the same names of those involved, but none of them were ready to reveal them to the public due to the sensitivity of the subject, the legal consequences and because they don’t have solid evidence bring before the court, hence PEREGRAF will also not be revealing their names.

A senior source from parliament's leadership who wanted to stay anonymous, explained to PEREGRAF that as the leadership of parliament "we don't have the names of any MP involved in bribery and corruption."

The source denied being informed by the investment board on the issue. "Let the investment board, if there's anything, write it to us, we can’t build anything on he-said-she-said. It’s none of our business if the MPs are setting up traps and are disgracing each other," they said.

The main demand of MPs and fractions is the formation of a parliamentary investigation committee, which sparked fierce debate in the June 26 session.

Parliament speaker Fayaq put to vote the formation of the committee on the MPs demands, which received the majority of votes and its formation was decided.

Ali Hama Salih, an MP, during the meeting criticized the parliament speaker's letter sent to the Prime Minister’s office, saying it’s an issue that needs to be resolved with the MPs themselves, "I know that complaints have been made, the investor who has complained may or may not be telling the truth, that must be confronted with the parliamentarian."

Fayaq during the session reiterated and explained several times that there is direct contact between MPs, the private sector and their projects, noting that according to parliament’s  Rules of Procedure there is one way to deal with and monitor the private sector, and that is through parliamentary committees.

"You have said more than once that ‘we will not visit the ministers, the minister should come here,’ you have the right to say that. You believe you have voted for the respected ministers and they should visit you here," Fayaq told MPs during the session. "Then how is it normal if a private company accused of corruption, an esteemed member of the Kurdistan Parliament visits the company, if it’s not through a committee?"

The speaker of parliament also said that the person the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament is dealing with is the government official that should supervise and monitor over the private sector, "you can’t just talk to the company. I assure you all we only meant to reorganize this issue."

MPs have said the Kurdistan Board of Investment is an official source that might "have information about the involvement of the MPsin corruption." Which they said included pressuring the wealthy, and investors or supporting their projects to get financial support in return.

PEREGRAF contacted the chairman of the board, Mohammed Shukri, on the issue but refused to comment saying "I’m in a crowded place, you can call me tomorrow." PEREGRAF contacted him the next day but he did not respond.

The first party that responded to the letter from the speaker of parliament was the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). That party indirectly acknowledged in a statement that a number of MPs are involved in corruption and bribery, but says they are not from their party.

Different parties in parliament have collectively called for the formation of an investigation committee and demanded legal consequences for those using their power for personal gains.

Peshwa Hawramani, the spokesman of KDP said in a statement, "We are glad to announce that there are no members of the PDK faction," asking the parliament speaker to form an investigative committee and not delay it any further. "Anyone who has used his position for personal gains should be named, so that legal procedures are taken against them and people’s [MPs] feelings are not unjustly hurt."

This was followed by statements from Change (Gorran) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) parties against the parliament speaker’s letter, saying it is against the parliament's Rules of Procedure. The two parties demanded that an investigative committee be formed to out those using their posts and power for personal gains.

The Kurdistan Justice Party, formerly known as Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU or Komal), they have also demanded "to reveal any MP’s name from any faction involved in the scandals (provided with legal and rightful evidence) mentioned in a letter from the speaker of parliament."

The party added that they should be sent to court but they should first be investigated by parliament after their names are revealed.

"If a parliamentarian is corrupt, they can’t be overlooked. Any official and employee who uses power for personal benefits is involved in corruption and the parliament's leadership should lift the question marks hanging over MPs," the Integrity Committee chairwoman, Amin said.

She also added that they haven’t been sent cases related to MPs' corruption in this parliament term. "It may have been mentioned that an MP has been involved in corruption, but the issue wasn’t put forward to the committee with evidence and documents."

There have been talks that members have used their position as MPs numerous times with companies and investors for individual gains, but no practical steps have been taken to investigate it and has merely remained a telltale, PEREGRAF finds.

"These parliamentarians are trying to facilitate work for these companies’ projects and try to cover their legal violations for them," said an MP who preferred to stay anonymous, adding that "some parliamentarians appear as lawyers for companies" during meetings held between the parliamentary committees, "because they have ties and have  benefited from them."

Facing corruption after the fall of the Baath regime and especially since the rise of the opposition in the Kurdistan Region in 2009, has always been what the parties and the government have campaigned for, with no apparent outcome.

The independent Kurdistan Integrity Commission, which investigates corruption cases, has no information about "the involvement of parliamentarians in corruption."

"Parliament should first form a committee and the documents at hand should be collected, and then the next step starts," Ahmed Anwar, head of the commission told PEREGRAF.

"We are waiting for parliament to decide on what they are doing on this issue, and then we can contact them and work on it with other parties," said Anwar.

Anwar explained that if there is enough evidence, legal action can be taken. "There might have been cases often, but if there isn’t evidence, no institution, parliament, court or even us, can reach an outcome," he said, adding their commission hasn’t received any cases of corruption.

The region's senior officials have acknowledged widespread corruption on several occasions, but officials have not taken the necessary steps against it.

The ninth cabinet's chanted slogan has always been that of a strong and reformist government that wants to face corruption - but same as the previous ones, efforts to combat corruption are yet to be seen.

In addition to the lack of reform and combating corruption in the Kurdistan Region, the people accused of corruption are also not known. The people of the Region have not yet seen a court session on such cases, and as the saying among the public goes: the fishnet of law does not catch the large fish, indicating that legal investigation can’t be held against senior officials when they violate law and fingers are pointed at them for corruption.