April 15, 2020
Different political factions in Iran are rushing in to claim the mantle of saviors, promising help to ordinary people whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by the impact of the coronavirus epidemic.
While Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says the government will not charge an interest on the ten million rial loan has promised to low-income Iranians, the Revolutionary Guard and financial institutions under the Supreme Leader’s control have unveiled their own plans to help needy people.
The loan is part of the government’s financial assistance to help Iranians to cope with the strains caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Based on the free market exchange rate the proposed loan amounts to around $65.
Previously Rouhani had said that those who get the loan will have to repay it with a 12 percent interest. In a sudden change of policy, Rouhani said on Tuesday 14 April that repayments will start in late June in instalments of just 350,000 rials per month which will be deducted from the 450,000 rial monthly cash subsidy the Iranian government pays to most Iranians.
He added that the government will pay the interest but did not explain how the Iranian government can charge an interest to itself. However, he promised the money will be in the people’s accounts around April 20 as an interest-free loan.
On 12 April, Rouhani said it was a lie that western governments are paying cash handouts to compensate for the losses people have sustained as a result of the outbreak and lockdowns. He was probably unaware of the measures taken in many Western countries including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The misguided comment was either a typical error Iranian leaders make in their comments about the state of affairs in the West, or intentional misinformation. Rouhani went even a step further on Monday to claim twice that Iran was far better off than European countries during the crisis.
Meanwhile, he added that the administration has also allocated a 1,000 trillion rial grant including 250 trillion rials to the health and medical treatment sector to be spent mainly on medicine and medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. The remaining 75o trillion rials will be paid as compensation to small businesses that have sustained losses as a result of the outbreak, Rouhani added. The total allocation amounts to almost 7 billion dollars.
However, he said that the grant will be paid only to the businesses that have not fired their workers during recent months.
The president further said that another three million Iranians living under financial hardship will receive a special cash subsidy between 2 to 6 million rials for four months as well as an additional payment for the month of Ramadan.
Rouhani wo had earlier said there were four million tons of essential goods waiting for clearance from the customs, said on Tuesday that one million tons of the goods have already been cleared.
In the meantime, it appears that there is a competition between the Rouhani administration and its political rivals in efforts they say are meant to alleviate the financial hardships resulting from the COVID-19 Outbreak.
IRGC Commander Hossein Salami said on Tuesday that the corps has set up a special command to aid Iranian families who have been hit by the coronavirus crisis.
However, it is still not known how much of the aid packages is paid for by the Guards. A statement by Salami says that aid provided by various organizations including the Headquarters to Carry Out the Imam’s Decree, and similar organizations linked to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office will be delivered to homes in packages labeled with their logos.
It appears that this is a response to widespread criticism of the IRGC and financial organizations linked to Khameneei’s office regarding their inaction in the face of the outbreak. However, the monetary value of these assistance measures still remain unclear.
Recently Khamenei authorized the withdrawal of one billion euros from the national reserves to deal with the pandemic. It is possible that part of this money is being spent on the assistance, which is claimed to come from the Supreme Leader’s financial empire.
On Saturday, even a daily newspaper close to Khamenei opined that if extremely rich organizations with ostensibly charitable goals do not help the people during this crisis, it will cast a shadow of doubt on their existence, as they belong to the people and their wealth should be spend on people’s needs.
It is still yet to be seen how much of the aid promised by the Rouhani administration, the IRGC and Khamenei’s financial empire will reach the families in need and how much of these promises are sheer propaganda to garner popular support for hardliner political factions in Iran.
In the meantime, on Tuesday as the health ministry put the number of COVID-19 patients close to 75,000, and the death toll at 4683, there was no sign of flattening in the ascending curve of the outbreak as President Rouhani and his spokesman Ali Rabiei have been trying to claim.
In fact, several health ministry officials including deputy minister Alireza Zali who is in charge of the combat against COVID-19 in Tehran have been repeatedly warning about an imminent second wave of the outbreak that can bring the health system to the verge of collapse.
In one of the latest attempts in the area of disease control, Tehran City Council member Zahra Nejad Bahram suggested that the city’s extremely busy subway system should be shut down as social distancing on board the metro is practically impossible. Her alternative suggestion was to issue face masks to all subway passengers. Both suggestions have been ruled out by the headquarters in charge of the fight against COVID-19 which is headed by Rouhani and his health Minister Saeed Namaki.