Bin Diwar, Fazaee (Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq)

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Bin Diwar, Fazaee
Location: Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Kurdistan map.jpg
Definition: Ghost employees; those who receive salaries from the public budget but do not perform the public service
Keywords:
Kurdistan Region of Iraq Iraq political patronage party appointments ghost employee absenteeism public sector creating facades creative accounting
Author: Hemn Namiq Jameel
Affiliation: Soran University Kurdistan Region of Iraq

By Hemn Namiq Jameel, Soran University, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The Kurdish term bin diwar, used in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI), and the Arabic term fazaee, used in the rest of Iraq, describe ‘ghost employees’ – individuals on public payroll who are not actual employees in public service (Al Arab 2015: 7). The Kurdish bin diwar translates as ‘under the wall’. The Arabic fazaee means ‘in space’ or ‘space station.’ These concepts are context-specific, but the phenomenon itself encapsulates the universal pattern of putting up facades and benefiting from creative accounting (see also alga aploksne, astroturfing, dzhinsa, otkat, window dressing and facades).

Ghost workers phenomenon affects almost all state institutions in KRI and Iraq. There are around 4 million recorded government employees in Iraq (together with pensioners and social transfer beneficiaries, there are 8 million public funds recipients in total, in a population of around 39 million population, making this the highest proportion in the world) (Alhasoon 2017). Official sources estimate that the public institutions require only around half of this number of workers (MEO 2016). There are around 1.5 million people on the payroll of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) (pensioners included) (Jameel 2017). Some have suggested that most KRG ministries 'could operate as effectively with one-third the staff' (Rubin 2012).

Iraq and KRI have no system of personal income tax or national insurance to contribute to public budgets. Rather, oil provides most of government revenues (Jameel 2017). In both regions, the phenomenon of ghost employees has been on the rise since the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein since 1968 was toppled in 2003 (Hanelt et al. 2004). The reformed governance model offered new positions in public institutions. Political parties and public office holders started allocating public vacancies and funds to their political followers, family and friends in order to insert their influence into the state apparatus (Jameel 2017) (see Tazkia, also see uhljeb).

Fazaee employees have been siphoning public funds in the Iraqi public institutions since the rule of the 2003 post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority (Pringle 2007; Henneberger 2017). Fazaee workers have been reported in the army, security and police forces as well as in the Shia militia groups such as Hashd Al Shabi (Al Arab 2015 7). An official estimate from 2014 puts the number of ghost soldiers and officers in the Iraqi army at 50,000 (Sputnik 2014). Others suggest the number of fazaee in different Iraqi institutions is around 900,000 and these estimates are confirmed by author’s research based on interviews with members of the Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments.

In the KRI, bin diwar employees have been observed since 2005, mostly in the KRI army (Peshmerga), and ministries of education, health, finance and religious affairs. In the Iraqi Kurdistan region, politically divided between the ‘Yellow zone’ of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the ‘Green zone’ of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, both ruling parties have been appointing their own members and followers to public positions (see Jameel 2017 and Tazkia) for more details, compare with other instances of party-based appointments such as Parteibuchwirtschaft). When the capacities of the public institutions have become overloaded, employees took advantage of the situation by not attending work.

Political parties, groups and key leaders can have several motives for encouraging fazaee and bin diwar practices. First, ghost jobs can be offered as favours in return for political support. Second, as is the case at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, fazaee workers are 'sons, relatives, guards of senior officers’ (Alexander and Alexander 2015: 266). Third, the practice can be the result of the deal made between key public officials and individuals to divide the salary (Ibid.). In the Iraqi army, for instance, 'officers and even the commanders of entire brigades have been suspected of listing more men under their command than really exist. They do so by firing soldiers and not taking them off the payroll, splitting salaries, pocketing half and giving the rest to men who do not show up to work, and even listing soldiers who have defected or been killed' (Sputnik 2014: paragraph 3, see also Roston and Myers 2007).

Although no official number exist, such informal practices carry a huge economic cost as both governments have to pay salaries to large number of people who do not provide any service in return. The ghost employee phenomenon produces a demoralizing effect on the performance of actual employees, as they may be discouraged to provide public service upon observing that ghost workers fail to be prosecuted. Governments of KRI and Iraq claim to have taken measures to capture fazaee and bin diwar workers and cut them from the payroll, yet without much visible results. A comprehensive reform required to remove ghost workers from public institutions will require commitment and true political will.

References

Abbas, H. 2017. The Myth and Reality of Iraq's al-Hashd al-Shaabi: A Way Forward. Amman: Friedrich-Ebert

Al Arab. 2015. 'Report about ghost soldiers', Al Arab Newspaper, 2 Februar: 7

Alexander, Y. and Alexander, D. 2015. The Islamic State: Combating the Caliphate without Borders. Lexington Books

Alhasoon, N. 2017. "8 million Iraqis depend on the state treasury", Alhayat, 22 November, http://www.alhayat.com/article/899583/8-ملايين-عراقي-يعتمدون-على-خزينة-الدولة

Hanelt, C., Luciani, G., and Neugart, F. 2004. Regime Change in Iraq: The Transatlantic and Regional Dimensions. Bertelsmann Foundation.

Henneberger, M. 2017. 'Bremer Paid "Ghost Employees" To Avoid "Real Trouble', Slemani News Network, http://www.snnc.co/News.aspx?id=4455&MapID=1

Jameel, H.N. 2017. A case study of Political Corruption in Conflict-Affected Societies (The Kurdistan Region of Iraq 2003-13), [PhD thesis]. Leicester: University of Leicester

MEO. 2016. 'Ghost employees is still the big corruption file in Iraq', MEO, 21 February, https://www.middle-east-online.com/الجنود-الفضائيون-ما-يزالون-أهم-ملف-فساد-في-العراق

Pringle, E. 2007. 'How Iraq was Looted', Counter Punch, 21 April, https://www.counterpunch.org/2007/04/21/how-iraq-was-looted

Roston, A. and Myers, L. 2007. 'Untouchable corruption in Iraqi agencies', NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/20043428/ns/nbc_nightly_news_with_brian_williams-nbc_news_investigates/t/untouchable-corruption-iraqi-agencies/#.W11xO7JR3IU

Rubin, M. 2012. 'Why does Barzani oppose modern banking for Kurdistan?', The Kurdistan Tribune, http://www.michaelrubin.org/12409/kurdistan-banking

Sputnik. 2014. 'Iraqi PM's Graft Probe Finds 50,000 "Ghost Soldiers"', Sputnik, 30 November, https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201411301015330267/

Further Reading

Dobbins, J. et al. 2009. Occupying Iraq: a history of the coalition provisional authority. Rand Corporation: Santa Monica.