Iraq may ditch $57 mln of food ration cooking oil

BAGHDAD Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:11pm IST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - About $57 million worth of cooking oil once destined for Iraq's national food ration programme may be fed to animals because it was left outdoors for three years and passed its expiry date for human consumption.

A parliamentary committee on Saturday suggested turning the wasted 30,000 tonnes of vegetable oil into fodder after saying it was left sitting at the port of Umm Qasr since 2008 while officials squabbled over the price.

Iraq has been hit by nationwide protests in recent months in which many demonstrators have complained about corruption and pressed the government to address food ration shortages. Iraqis receive monthly supplies of rice, cooking oil and other staples.

The committee said the Trade Ministry ordered the oil left at the port while it renegotiated the price with importers. Last month it finally agreed to take delivery after negotiating the price down from $1,900 to $1,800 a tonne.

Wahda al-Jumaili, a lawmaker and a member of the committee, said Iraq contracted for the oil during the global financial crisis at a time when the world price dropped to $600.

"Imagine Iraq paid $1,900 as a unit price for this material," she said.

Iraq is considered one of the world's most corrupt countries. Protesters have lashed out at corruption and called for the ouster of many provincial politicians.

Jumaili said the committee had documents indicating Iraq had signed contracts in 2008 with 33 companies to import vegetable oil at $1,900 a tonne.

Parliament decided to summon the former trade minister and other officials for questioning.

In addition to the wasted oil, a member of the committee said the ministry had to pay $12 million in storage fees and fines for keeping it at the port for so long.

(Editing by Jim Loney)

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