In his appearance before a parliamentary panel Ali al-Alaq, the Governor of Iraq’s Central Bank, had to answer several questions about a five-year-old incident at a branch of the Iraq’s Central Bank, the Rafidain Bank. It seems that at the end of 2013, the annual flooding had crept into the vaults of the Rafidain Bank and “destroyed” mountains of dinar bank notes worth seven billion dinars (about six million dollars).
The Parliament wanted to know a little more about this incident as the bank notes are designed to be waterproof and able to withstand flooding (as any Iraqi who has washed his clothes with money in the pocket can tell you).
The Governor assured the Parliamentary Committee that there was no real loss of money as the notes were destroyed and simply replaced by the Central Bank at a cost of only a few cents per note.
Somehow the legislators were a little curious about how the notes were “destroyed.” That they might have been damaged and replaced makes some sense, but utterly destroyed by rainwater while in a vault is another matter entirely. Ali al-Alaq was not the Governor of the Central Bank at that time and had little more to offer publicly.
Iraq is ranked as the twelfth most corrupt government in the world by Transparency International, which makes such rankings for the UN. This is actually an improvement over having been ranked dead last just a couple of years ago.
Highly sensitive to this ranking and anxious to improve their international rating to help Iraq, the legislators were inordinately interested in something, which was at best was an ordinary accident and remediation and at worst was official corruption of an almost petty nature. Considering the billions annually looted in Iraq in official corruption – an amount which is estimated to have climbed to over two-hundred billion dollars since the fall of Saddam – “petty” is a word one could aptly apply to merely six million dollars’ worth of theft.
Corruption in Chicago
It is lucky that Chicago is not its own country. There is no doubt that my home would be ranked even lower than Iraq. Chicago has a huge public debt to pension funds and other debtors. The State of Illinois (in which Chicago is located) has the highest amount of structural debt per capita in the United States. The structural debt for just Chicagoans is sixty-seven thousand dollars per household plus an additional forty-one thousand dollars per household for the Illinois portion as the state tries to service its public debt as well. Unlike the public debt of the federal government, this money must be repaid soon.
This debt was largely created by corrupt deals by politicians in Chicago with unions and other organizations representing pensioners in Illinois promising to give away exorbitant sums of future public money for high pensions to buy votes. Because public officials in Illinois can have outside “employment” in addition to their legislative salaries and often mysteriously end their public careers as millionaires; keeping that public job is clearly lucrative and any amount of public money that needs to be promised away to keep that job is worth it.
As Mary Frances Berry wrote for Salon a couple of years ago, “In addition, four consecutive corrupt governors and nearly one-third of Chicago’s one hundred alderpersons since 1973 have been convicted of corruption, mostly involving bribes to influence government decisions or for personal financial benefit.”
This has been going on in Chicago for decades. In fact, there is a very famous case of election fraud in Chicago. There are many such stories but this one is apt to this article about Iraq’s flooding.
In the 1920s, a flatbed truck holding four wards of Northside votes was heading downtown to deliver those votes to City Hall to be counted. A sudden gust of wind and rain hit the truck as it crossed the Chicago River. Amazingly, all of the boxes of votes blew off of the truck, onto the road, over the guard rails and into the river. These pieces of paper were too “destroyed.”
The court eventually ruled that the voters whose votes were destroyed were simply disenfranchised and those votes would just not be counted at all as there was no way to exactly replicate them. This was a controversial ruling to be sure. Oh, did I mention that in Chicago they elect judges?
I hope that the Iraqis get to the bottom of the great flood but if they never do, I hope that they keep up their anti-corruption efforts. They need to do better than Chicago has – and can.