A plan to change Iraq’s free food aid mechanism is being drawn up by the Ministry of Trade. If passed by parliament and approved by the presidential council, those on higher incomes will no longer be able to benefit from the free food, a government spokesman said on 9 June.
"We are preparing a road map to support the food rationing system by excluding those with high incomes," spokesman Mohammed Hanoon told IRIN.
"It is a three-phase plan designed for a three-year period. The cabinet has agreed on it and the ministry's committees are preparing to send it to parliament in the coming days. If it is approved, we will start our survey [of people’s incomes] this year and start implementing it next year," Hanoon said.
Hanoon did not elaborate on the criteria his ministry plans to adopt in determining who will be eligible for the free food, but said there were no plans to cut the number of items (currently 10) in the food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS).
"There will be no cut in the items," he said. "We asked for US$7.3 billion to be allocated for this year. So far, we have already spent $3.17 billion and we are waiting for the rest of the funds to come in. We think this will be enough to cover our activities unless world [food] prices go up even further," he said.
The PDS was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
In December the Trade Ministry had warned that the monthly PDS parcels would be reduced to five items in 2008 due to lack of governmental financial support and soaring world food prices. The government is currently subsidising PDS parcels to the tune of 500 Iraqi dinars (less than 50 US cents) per person.
What’s in a PDS parcel?
PDS parcels contain rice (3kg per person), sugar (2kg per person), cooking oil (1.25kg or one litre per person), flour (9kg per person), milk for adults (250g per person), tea (200g per person), beans (250g per person), children's milk (1.8kg per child), soap (250g per person), detergents (500g per person) and tomato paste (500g per person).
On the open market the price of a kilogram of rice is between 750 and 2,000 dinars, and a kilogram of sugar costs between 500 and 1,000 dinars. A kilogram of flour ranges in price from 250 to 1,500 dinars (one US dollar = 1,200 Iraqi dinars).
According to the ministry, 80 percent of Iraqis benefited from the PDS during former Saddam Hussein’s rule, and for 60 percent of the population the food basket was their only source of support.