Friday, September 16, 2011

Iraq's housing boom or scam

So Iraq's in its second consecutive month of inflation and Mayada Al Askari (Gulf News) interviews Iraq's Undersecretary of the Iraqi Ministry of Housing and Construction to talk about the construction boom in Iraq. (When you bomb a country repeatedly, you do create the need for a construction boom.) Excerpt:

GULF NEWS: How can you be so ambitious about building housing when the infrastructure's main element, electricity, is not available? Buildings — as an example — require lifts, electric water pumps, etc. How can communities live without electricity?

Faleh Al Ammiri: Certainly, the implementation of these projects requires time during which infrastructure and providing the community with electricity will be completed. As for major investment projects, electric power stations will be built to provide such projects with electricity as well as water and sewage systems.

What about paving roads in Iraq, why are there so many projects in this area?

Road networks in Iraq were previously neglected and the whole system is out-of-date as it was overused by the army, but we now have plans to refurbish the system. A renovation of the roads network is currently underway. Weigh stations across the country's provinces were officially announced lately, as overloads are the main reasons behind the recent road damages. There is also the intent to carry out a highway connecting Umm Qasr with the Turkish border, along with other roads connecting the Iraqi cities. Construction of bridges is also part of the plan, however maintaining roads and bridges require users to abide by load limits, and the provinces need to carry out their commitments in this regard.

The minister's not interested in housing people. It's a corruption scam waiting to be turned over as he confesses that "the ministry-run corporation has dozens of factorizes specialising in the production of concrete products including pipes, bridge pillars as well as asphalt, stone breakers and ready-mix factories". That quote right there also answers the question about why the ministry has placed so much emphasis on building roads at a time when Iraqis continue to lack not just reliable electricity but Italicalso potable water.

It's a lot easier to keep approving projects that enrich your own budget.

If you doubt it, why is South Korea winning a construction bid in Iraq? Why is any foreigner? Iraq's never suffered from lack of construction workers.

Iraq also suffers not from a lack of concrete. In fact it's a big mob industry in Iraq. But the Ministry's in it too. Hmm. Al Sabaah reports on how Iraq's got all these new houses and housing areas being built and yet the glut hasn't depressed market prices and the homes are so expensive why? Due to the high cost of the construction materials. Seems like that cost could be somewhat controlled if Iraq's Ministry of Housing and Construction were doing it's job -- and that's before you factor in the fact that the Ministry owns many of those construction material producing businesses.

And all of this comes as the Integrity Commission's finding on Iraqi real estate has embarrassed Nouri and forced him to make a move. Al Rafidayn reminds that he's stopped the sale of Iraqi property as a result of the Commission finding fraud and price manipulation by government employees in the real estate market. Nouri's quoted calling out the "corruption and abuse" in his government on this issue. The Commission has also located over a hundred million smuggled out prior to the start of the Iraq War, this would be under Saddam Hussein.

In related news, the Great Iraqi Revolution has released "a document leaked from the Prime Minister's office which orders the recruitment of 1000 nurses and 150 doctors from India and Bengaladesh . . . while there are tens of thousands of unemployed Iraqis who are well qualified for these jobs!!!"

Community sites updated last night and this morning. Blogger/Blogspot isn't showing them all. I'm swiping from Stan's site and everything listed except for Third and Elaine's site updated last night or this morning:

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. We'll close with this from her office:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office - (202) 224-2834

Thursday, September 15, 2011 Burr Press Office – (202) 224-3154

Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr Call on VA to Provide Answers about Department’s Budget Projections

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr sent a joint letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki expressing their concern that VA may not have sufficient resources to adequately address increasing demand for veterans’ health care in FY 2012. Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr’s letter asks VA for specific assurances that VA remains ready and able to provide the health care upon which more and more veterans depend.

The full text of the Senators’ letter is below:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

In this time of economic uncertainty, with an increasing number of our servicemembers returning home, the demand for medical care at VA medical centers is certain to grow. This demand, coupled with the lower than expected Medical Care Collections Fund (MCCF) collection rate, and recent reports regarding staffing reductions and emergency budget cuts at certain medical centers, underscores the critical need to ensure resources are being maximized and Department appropriations requests are accurately projected.

We are therefore writing today to confirm that VHA appropriations and carry-over for FY 2012 are on-track to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans, so that the care provided to our veterans remains the highest quality.

We understand from your July 21, 2011, sufficiency review of advance appropriations for FY 2012 medical care that the Department’s appropriations request was based, in part, upon projected carryover funds and revenues from the MCCF. MCCF collections, along with operational improvements, and cost savings in acquisitions, fee care, and other programs, are key components of budget and operations planning and must be accurately projected.

We also understand that for the first quarter of FY 2011, VHA reported a 12.3 percent variance between its planned and actual collections, in the amount of nearly $100 million. As of second quarter FY 2011, MCCF collections were 8.5 percent below plan and 5.2 percent below the same period last year. Similarly, for third quarter FY 2011, collections remain 5.7 percent below plan. In your July report, you stated that “there remains an element of risk to the sufficiency of the FY 2012 budget” and quoted a June 14, 2011, GAO report:

If the estimated savings for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 do not materialize and VA receives appropriations in the amount requested by the President, VA may have to make difficult trade-offs to manage within the resources provided.

Such difficult trade-offs are evident throughout the VA health care system. We understand, for example, that the Indianapolis VAMC faced an $18 million budget shortfall at the start of FY 2011. Against this backdrop, and challenged by an unprecedented demand for services from veterans, the medical center reduced expenditures and slowed the hiring of additional and replacement staff. Similarly, the Tampa VAMC continues to take steps to address a budget deficit that is currently near $17 million and has been as high as $47.5 million this fiscal year. Such steps have included a reduction in staffing through attrition by 111 positions, and cuts from lab services, mental health programs and education funds. Each of these actions, while fiscally sound, could have an adverse impact on patient care quality.

As we enter into FY 2012, it is imperative that VHA remains ready and able to provide the quality medical care upon which our veterans depend. Accordingly, we ask that you detail for us your plan to increase MCCF collections, so that collections goals in FY 2012 are met. Additionally, please address whether there are budgetary shortfall risks at VISNs or medical centers for FY 2012. Are VHA appropriations and carryover on-track to meet VHA needs? Finally, do you anticipate that VISNs and medical centers will be able to meet budgetary obligations without having to significantly draw upon reserve funds?

Thank you for providing this information to us. Ours is a shared mission to safeguard the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans and we look forward to working with you to this end.


Patty Murray


Richard Burr

Ranking Member


Meghan Roh

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray



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