Iran’s Budget: Money Flows to Friday Prayers Despite 20-Month Pandemic Break
On October 30, 2021, Friday public prayers resumed in Tehran after a 20-month cancellation due to the Coronvirce pandemic. In his first sermon, Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari, the head of the Friday Prayer Policy Council (FPPC) and Tehran’s interim leader of the Friday congregational prayer, called the Friday prayers cancellations one of the "greatest damages caused by the coronavirus."
But official Iranian government data shows that the coronavirus epidemic has not negatively impacted FPPC's budget. In fact, the organization, which operates under Iran's Supreme Leader, has witnessed major growth in its budget during the epidemic.
Despite the cancellation of Friday congregational prayers for nearly two years, Iran Open Data’s analysis shows that FPPC's budget increased by 200% in just one year.
Iran’s Supreme Leader replaced the Central Council of Friday Imams, in 1993, with the Friday Prayer Policy Council. The FPPC is considered one of the organizations under the supervision of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
FPPC is one of the dozens of religious institutions whose financial performance is not officially published in the country's budget documents.
In separate articles, the Iran Open Data has previously covered the financial performance of some of these religious-propaganda organizations:
FPPC's website has not published any information about its responsibilities, activities, or organizational structure. Also, it is unknown how many employees work in this organization. Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari, on November 26, 2021, said that at least 877 Friday prayer locations are under the supervision of this council.
FPPC's chairman Haji Ali Akbar stated, "two hundred new Friday Imams were hired in the last three years, and we had 500 turnovers, which helped to renovate our workforce."
Since the FPPC's budget is defined under Islamic Propaganda Organization’s budget, it is unclear how it is being spent. It is also unclear whether the council’s budget includes the salaries and wages of its employees. This makes us wonder if they, or their affiliated provincial workforce, receive their salaries from another budget line or organization.
In addition to leading the Friday prayers, provincial leaders of Friday congregational prayers are effectively the representatives of the Supreme Leader in that province.
An examination of the originally allocated budget for this council in 2021, shows that the government initially had a budget of 35,300,000,000 tomans ($8.4 million USD) for this council. But during the parliamentary approval process, this number increased, by about 147%, to 85,300,000,000 tomans ($20.3 million USD).
The approved 2021 budget of this council, compared to its budget in 2020, shows a growth of 189%. This means that this budget has more than tripled in one year. This is while, due to the pandemic crisis, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has banned the Friday prayers for the past 20 months.
The estimated budget of this council, in the 2020 government appropriations bill, was 29,500,000,000 ($7 million USD). It was approved by the parliament without modification.
Examining this council’s budget, in recent years, does not give a clear picture of the relationship between government appropriations amount and the final number approved by the parliament. But the numbers show that between 2016 to 2021, more than 277 billion tomans ($66 million USD) of public funds have been appropriated to this council.