“We are receiving data from all the government ministries on employees paid at least 1.5 million Iraqi dinars [US$1,300] a month,” Riadh Fakhir Al-Hashimi, head of the Trade Ministry’s Planning and Food Rationing Directorate, told IRIN.
“So far we have received data regarding about 70,000 food rationing cards… That means the number of people excluded [from the distribution lists for state food aid] is about 120,000 nationwide so far,” Al-Hashimi said.
In June 2009, the government said it would rationalize the state-run food aid system known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), which was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme. More than half of Iraq's 29 million residents depend on it, according to the Trade Ministry.
However, it has been crumbling since 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
The government is also working to track down higher earners in the private sector, the Trade Ministry’s Al-Hashimi said, acknowledging, however, that the process would take time.
Those excluded now would be able to go back to receiving state food aid if their incomes fell below a certain level; and if a well-off person is head of the family then aid will be stopped to all family members, Al-Hashimi said.
Abdul-Zahra Al-Hindawi, a Planning Ministry spokesman, said exclusion of the better off was not the only way of improving the system: The quantity and quality of food items and their distribution timeframe was also important.
"I don’t think the exclusion will have a huge impact on the system as the number of all excluded people will not be that big in comparison to the population," said Adil Abdul-Muhsin Jabbar, a Baghdad-based economist.
"I think the main challenges that must be tackled first are corruption and mismanagement."
Monthly PDS parcels are supposed to 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.