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Iran Vice-President Apologizes To Nation For Economic Hardships, Shortcomings

IRAN -- Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, Iranian government spokesman, the president's adviser for Supervision and Strategic Affairs, and Head of the Plan and Budget Organization speaks to AFP during an interview at his office in Tehran, February 15, 2018

Vice-President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, who is the chairman of Iran's Planning and Budget Organization has apologized to the nation for the shortcomings in the country's economy.

Speaking in an interview with the Iranian state television's news network IRINN Friday night 21 August, Nobakht said that the Rouhani administration has still had not a chance to launch its so-called "economic breakthrough" project.

The project which involved selling oil bonds to the nation at the country's Energy Exchange, was torpedoed by Iran's Parliament and the heads of the Judiciary and Legislative branches who wrote to Supreme Leader Khamenei to express their opposition to the plan that was meant to make up for the Rouhani administration's nearly 50 percent budget deficit in the current year.

Nobakht said: "We have asked the members of the parliament not to express any views about the plan for the time being."

He said in the interview with the state TV: "The Rouhani administration's last year in office has coincided with unprecedented sanctions."

Nobakht explained: "Previously, sanctions allowed trading oil with food, but the new round of sanctions even do not allow that. We have not been able to provide foodstuff for the nation."

"The coronavirus pandemic exerted new pressures on the government. Our resources have diminished and we need to do cost management through planning," he said.

The PBO Chief continued: "Oppressive colonial powers were planning to stop development and production in Iran, but luckily they have been defeated. You see the ongoing development efforts in the provinces. There are two million jobs available in the development projectsand we are constantly inaugurating new projects."

Nobakht made the claims while many industrial workers in Iran are on strike as the government has not been able to pay their wages for months.

Meanwhile, he defended the administration's attempt to allocate foreign currency to importers at the preferential rate of 4200toumans per US dollar, which is about one fourth of the actual market rate. However, critics continue to lash out at the administration for its attempt to control the markets in an artificial way, saying that this has led to more inflation and chaos particularly in the forex, housing and automobile markets. Critics also opined that cheap foreign currency has been made available only to insiders and well-connected people.

Nobakht said: "We cannot talk about the hardships openly, but we are tryingto prevent the administration's embarrassment before the nation." He added:"Plans not going further as they should have, caused embarrassment for the government."

He admitted that although the government has been in control of areas such as agriculture, no part of the administration is in charge of foreign trade. This comes while the Rouhani administration has a ministry named "The Ministry of Industry, Mining and Trade." Nobakht attributed the problem to flaws in the relations between the administration and the parliament (Majles).

He also addedthat the administration's forecast for selling1.5 million barrels of oil per day in the year that started in March has not materialized. Economic observers have said that currently Iran sells between 100,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Nobakht said that based on forecasts, some countries were supposed to purchase oil from Iran, but in practice, this is not the case.

European and even Chinese buyers of Iranian oil no longer purchase oil from Iran fearing the impacts of US sanctions on Iran's oil industry and international banking.

Going back to the issue of "economic breakthrough," Nobakht quoted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as having said that the plan can go ahead if the heads of the three branches of the government reach to an agreement about it. However, Majles Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisis have voiced their opposition to the plan and Majles committees have said the plan will create obligations for Iran's next administration that takes office after May2021.

In part of the interview, the state TV anchor asked Nobakht whether he knew the price of ordinary grocery items. Nobakht said he has no idea about the prices as his wife does all the shopping. However he admitted that his wife often complains about rising prices.