KRG conceals the amount of aid contributions; business leaders and NGOs have fought half the COVID-19 battle

03-11-2020 06:28
Asa Hospital was built by business leaders in the city of Sulaymaniyah

Peregraf- Dekan Ali

Half of the corona designated hospitals have been built by the private sector and the World Health Organization (WHO) has contributed more than one million USD to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The government has spent 28 billion IQD (23.5 million USD).

The fight against COVID-19 would have been much harder had business leaders and NGOs not supported health sector. Together, they have backed KRG to combat the pandemic on its front lines.

As soon as the pandemic reached the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the private sector aided the government by building hospitals and providing medicine, oxygen and financial support.

Yet contributions from individuals and humanitarian sectors have not been sufficient. The KRG has allocated an emergency budget to combat the pandemic, even in the midst of a financial crisis. However, it seems that the healthcare sector may not pass the coronavirus test.

 Private sector contributions

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several hospitals designated to handle COVID-19 cases were built by humanitarian NGOs. They included Asa Hospital in Sulaymaniyah, Imarati Hospital in Erbil, Qala Hospital in Germian Administration, Wafa Hospital in Halanja, and Beshkan Hospital in Derbandikhan Province. These organizations spent 1 billion IQD on the Contagious Disease Hospital in Raparin but it was not enough and the co-chair of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) took it upon himself to contribute the rest.

Businessmen Haji Abid Hawrami and Aso Bamoki aided Halanja Health, donating 700,000 USD to construct the fully equipped Wafa hospital in 19 days.

Hawrami told Peregraf: “We have been helping the hospital for several months and have paid the salaries of the staff. God willing, we will continue to help the people of [Sulaimaniyah] governorate and we take it upon ourselves to help the hospital and its patients in such a difficult time.”

Apart from constructing hospitals, entrepreneurs have supported the healthcare sector by supplying medicine, oxygen, and cash. To ascertain the amounts contributed, Peregraf called officials in the Ministry of Health, the parliamentary health committees, and governorate councils but they did not have accurate statistics.

In some districts, committees were tasked with collecting the donations. In Said Sadiq, an issue was raised when a donor gave 10,000 USD to the coronavirus hospital but then asked for his money back, claiming that “there is corruption in spending the money.” However, the city’s administration has denied this claim.

According to an investigation by Peregraf, apart from local donations, WHO financial support for the KRG Ministry of Health has amounted to more than one million USD. WHO also provided personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, IV fluids, and other medical equipment.

Aso Hawezi, spokesperson for the KRG Ministry of Health, told Peregraf: “The KRG has made every effort with the help from humanitarian aid organizations, local and international NGOs, and foreign diplomatic missions to curb the spread of the virus.”

He added, “when the pandemic started, several hospitals were built in governorates and cities across Kurdistan Region. Most, and in some cases, all of the equipment and medical equipment was provided by NGOs.” But he did not provide precise statistics.

Sabah Zebari, head of Parliament’s Health Committee, told Peregraf that the committee does not have statistics on how much the KRG has spent to fight COVID-19 over the past seven months.

Zebari praised business leaders for their support but said: “As a committee we do not know the amounts contributed, but we know that [the private sector] supplied medical instruments.”

Amid the pandemic and financial crisis, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani announced the “We are Stronger Together” campaign for aid and donations.

The campaign was announced on March 17, 2020 and according to the campaign coordinators, 18.183 million USD had been collected by April 1st.

Peregraf called the contact phone numbers listed for the campaign. The first was unreachable. The other was in service but the receptionist refused to give Peregraf any information on the duration of the campaign or the amount of money collected.

Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, the ministers, and other high-level government officials also decided on April 1, 2020 to donate half of their salaries and allowances for two months to help combat the pandemic.

What the government have done

Although the healthcare system has improved considerably and advanced, modern clinics and hospitals have been built, people remain dissatisfied with healthcare services, particularly in the public sector.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to spread throughout the Kurdistan Region, the KRG designated several hospitals to serve patients infected with the virus. They include Rozhawa Emergency, Peshmarga, Imarati and Rzgari hospitals in Erbil; Shahid Dr Hemn, Shahid Aso and Shahid Tahir Wali Bag hospitals in Sulaimaniyah; and Azadi, Kavin and Lalav hospitals in Duhok.

Along with the spread of COVID-19, oil prices collapsed, causing the KRG’s income to decrease dramatically. It could no longer provide salaries and was forced to reduce spending. But the KRG continued to spend money to fight COVID-19 in two ways:

  • A monthly sum of 6 billion IQD has been allocated to health departments and seven General Health Directorates. 70% of that money has been spent fighting coronavirus.

  • The second type of spending is from the emergency fund, which is controlled by the Prime Minister. The fund contained 28 billion IQD and it has been accordingly: Sulaymaniyah 43%, Erbil 34%, Duhok 23%.

Aso Hawezi says, “the distribution is based on infection rates in the governorates. The Iraqi Government has also provided 5.5 billion IQD.” The spokesperson is satisfied with the amount of the donations and budget allocations dedicated to fighting coronavirus.

In the Kurdistan Region, more than 7,000 tests are being administered daily. By October 27, more than 621,000 tests had been administered in public and private labs.

More than 3,400 bottles of plasma have been collected to treat coronavirus patients and have been distributed amongst the governorates. 400,000 IQD is required to prepare each plasma bottle.

At the time of writing on October 10, 2020,  71,752 people in the Kurdistan Region had tested positive for COVID-19. 40,909 have recovered and 2,361 have died from the disease.

The KRG’s departments have not implemented electronic record-keeping systems and their doors are not open for journalists to access statistics and information.

For these reasons, along with KRG’s lack of transparency, Peregraf was unable to find out the amounts of money donated by local businessmen and international organizations to KRG in the fight against coronavirus.

Peregraf contacted the Ministry of Health spokesperson, two members from the Committee to Combat Coronavirus, the office of the Minister of Health, and the KRG spokesperson. Some of our subjects responded but none had precise statistics on the amount of money collected. The KRG spokesperson did not respond.

This investigative report was written by Dekan Ali for Peregraf as part of the Intensive Journalism Workshop funded by the German Foreign Office.