Middle East

Iran's payslip scandal spells trouble for Rouhani

Man counts Iranian banknotes Image copyright AFP
Image caption Iran has capped salaries of public officials, but many Iranians believe it came too late

"Payslip-gate", as it has come to be known, has been dominating the news headlines in Iran for months.

The scandal began in May when the payslips of top managers at the state insurance company were leaked to the media, showing they were receiving very generous salaries.

In the weeks that followed more payslips mysteriously found their way into the public domain, revealing the earnings of a range of officials from top civil servants to bank bosses.

Some were apparently getting around 50 times the minimum public sector wage.

Many were also being paid big bonuses and extras, taking their overall salaries to upwards of a hundred times the average household income.

In a country where public sector jobs are normally considered as low paid, and where civil servants often take second jobs to make ends meet, the revelations came as a shock.

Spin-off media reports about bank executives staying in $5,000 (£3,800)-a-night hotel rooms on business trips only added to public anger.

Ammunition for hardliners

The saga has been a major blow to the reputation of the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

The millions of Iranians who voted for him in the 2013 were hoping for change and in particular an improvement to their country's dire economic situation.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Rouhani (c) is expected to run for office again next year

Although the president has delivered on his election promises of resolving the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme, and opening the way for sanctions to be lifted, there has been little concrete improvement in ordinary people's lives so far.

Hardliners have seized the opportunity to attack Mr Rouhani and his team as Iranian politics moves into a higher gear ahead of presidential elections due to take place next May.

There has been a drumbeat of negative coverage in the conservative media.

Things have also got personal with critics targeting Mr Rouhani's brother, Hossein Ferydoun, who has been accused of having close links to some of the officials at the centre of the scandal.

Groundswell of anger

Many Iranians have been taking to social media to vent their fury.

"Why such high payments to officials whose inefficiency is evident all over the country?" asked one Twitter user called Sharzad. "Is this the new way of tackling corruption?"

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The cost of living for ordinary Iranians remains high

"Now I've seen their payslips, I understand why officials used to say 'the sanctions have no effects whatsoever'," said another Twitter user, Ilkar.

"Iran needs a few Robin Hoods!" quipped another, Mohammad.

Even the country's supreme leader was moved to intervene, branding the salaries, unacceptable and "astronomical".

Mr Rouhani and other officials have repeatedly said that the problem is not widespread and that only a handful of managers earn what they call "irregular salaries".

A number of officials named in the payslip revelations have now been sacked, and one senior banking official - Ali Rastagar Sorkhei, from Mellat Bank - has been arrested.

'Too late'

This week the government announced that it was introducing a new cap on state officials' salaries.

But many Iranians say all this has come too late to stop the tide of resentment.

Reports of businesses failing to pay their employees on time or at all, and disputes over low wages, are becoming regular occurrences in Iran.

In May, 17 gold miners in West Azerbaijan province in north-west Iran were lashed on the orders of the judiciary after their employers sued them for protesting over the sacking of hundreds of their colleagues.

Against this background it is not difficult to understand why the payslip row has made many people so angry and many officials so nervous.

Whether or not the scandal is limited to a very few senior executives, as the government claims, it underlines the widening divide in Iran between the rich and the poor.

For ordinary voters, the fact that the economy still is not delivering is now a major cause of concern.

Anyone who wants their vote in next year's election will need to have a clear plan for how to resolve the problem.

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