Judge Tawfiq said only that the case was “still under investigation.” The interview I conducted with him took place on January 28, 2019, six years after the tent contract was awarded to the company, five years after the end of the “Baghdad, Arab Capital of Culture” project, and four years after opening an investigation by the Integrity Commission.
A Legal Loophole
There is a legal loophole for the possibility of inviting companies directly to submit bids, based on Article 4, Paragraph 5, of the Instructions for the Execution of Government Contracts in accordance with Law No. 1 of 2008. This loophole contributed to facilitating the approval of several contracts for inflated amounts, as is the case in the ministry’s contract with Telloh Company for General Contracting to buy an outside broadcasting vehicle (OBV) for al-Hadhara TV channel of the Ministry of Culture, for $1 million.
The reporter contacted two Iraqi companies specialized in providing television production and live broadcasting equipment. Based on the specifications stipulated in the contract, they offered to provide the same vehicle for less than $ 250,000.
One year later, al-Hadhara TV channel was closed, and we could not determine the fate of the outside broadcasting vehicle.
In September 2013, Fares Tohmeh Al-Tamimi, the director of the Film Selection Committee, asked to be exempted from the committee’s membership, criticizing the ministry’s procedures for selecting films that would be financed within the budget of the cultural capital project. Al-Tamimi said he believed that the committee’s opinion was completely marginalized, and that the Ministry of Culture adopted films previously rejected by the committee. He asserted that among 20 films, some were not very good, and some did not deserve to be called a movie at all.
Al-Tamimi attributed the approval of financing for these films to “nepotism,” which he said controlled the acceptance or rejection of the proposed films. He cited the committee’s rejection of two films produced by artists with family ties to al-Dulaimi. They were soon approved by the Alternative Film Selection Committee for $1.7 million.
“Some of the films were only documentary films that were given the characteristics of feature films with a pen stroke on paper,” said Abbas. He argued that “one of the films that had gotten an allocation of about one million dollars did not cost a quarter of this amount, according to real estimates.”
According to a guide issued by the Ministry of Culture in 2014, the cost of producing 37 films within the project amounted to 16,448 billion Iraqi dinars ($13.7 million).
Abbas explicitly accused the majority of artists, intellectuals and production companies that participated in the cultural capital project of “complicity in passing this corruption for material gain.”
The reporter documented various testimonies from directors and authors, including mutual accusations about estimating production costs and the reality of disbursements. The charges extended to theft of literary and intellectual copyrights and the conversion of short series or dramas into films within the Baghdad project.
Qahtan Abdul Jalil, director of the cinema and theater department, complained that his department “has not been able to meet its financial obligations to produce the films of the Baghdad, Arab Capital of Culture project.” Abdul Jalil asserted that his department was obliged to pay about $ 1.7 million as part of the delay penalties resulting from the failure to pay dues on time.
This department did not have a voice in how the disbursement list of the produced films was classified, it was only asked to approve it. Abdul Jalil summarized the scene at the time as “chaotic,” with things going “randomly” because there was no specific production plan.
$3.8 Million for Books Unknown to the Public
The Ministry of Culture allocated $3.8 million to print 600 books on arts and cultural topics, with 2,000 copies per publication. By dividing this sum by the number of publications, it seems that the ministry allocated $6,333 per publication, regardless of the number of pages. The reporter asked three local publishing houses about the cost of printing 2,000 copies of a 300-page book, and the answer was that the highest print price was only $3,000.
This difference in prices was also seen in other contracts awarded by the Ministry of Culture within the same project, including a contract signed in October 2012 with “Mesopotamia Publishing House” to print 65 books, with 2,000 copies of each title, at a cost of 650 million dinars; that is, the cost of printing one book hit $8,500. The ministry contracted with another house to print three books for the ministry’s Research and Studies Center, for $11,000 per book. Similar examples occurred in many contracts reviewed by the reporter.
Thaer Abtan, a member of the project’s assessment committee, said that the committee had “no real authority to reject or accept a certain book, it only had the right to pass it, like any executive, while the official signature is the responsibility of the minister or one of the under secretaries.”
The price of printing a book hit $4,500 for a thousand copies, while printing in Beirut, for example, does not cost more than $1,500, according to Abtan. He recalled how he dared to “make a formal objection to the office of the minister and the general directors of the ministry regarding the status of the assessment committee and the methods of selecting and printing the books.” The response came in the form of “obscure threat” from one of the directors’ offices: “The under secretary tells you to eat without noise,” a common Iraqi expression that means you should get paid and keep quiet.
Firas Khudhair Turki, the former inspector general at the Ministry of Culture, attributed the spread of excesses to the lack of checking the expenditure and the projects of the ministries by the inspectors general unless there are complaints or information that the regulatory authorities want to check. “Only here, they are entitled to scrutinize them, and if they find evidence of corruption documented, an investigation is opened within the ministry before submitting the results of the investigation to the Minister of Culture for approval,” he said. The case file is then referred to the Integrity Commission, which in turn checks the evidence and refers the case to the judiciary.
However, Judge Tawfiq summarized the penetration of corruption in Iraq and the immunity of officials as being “stronger than the Commission of Integrity as a whole.”
“Corruption is much stronger and higher,” he said, raising his hands up.
The same statement was repeated by Ammar al-Shibli, a member of the Parliament’s Integrity Committee. Al-Shibli said that only six judges follow corruption cases in Iraqi courts. Compared to the number of corruption cases, which exceed 3,000 to 4,000 cases per year, each judge would seem to have the difficult task of following more than 500 cases per year.