TEHRAN (AFP) – The head of the Iranian central bank resigned on Sunday, the third departure of a key economic policymaker from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration in just two weeks.
The resignation of Ebrahim Sheibani comes after the unexpected departures of the oil and industry ministers on August 12, a move that was widely seen as an attempt by Ahmadinejad to increase his control over the economy.
It also coincided with the departure of one of Ahmadinejad’s closest aides from a top interior ministry post and his replacement by a general who has a background in the elite Revolutionary Guards.
“The resignation of Ebrahim Sheibani has been accepted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying by the official IRNA agency.
He added that the government was seeking to appoint Tahmasb Mazaheri — the economy minister under Ahmadinejad’s reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami — as new central bank chief and the process was now in its “final stage”.
No explanation was given for the resignation, which had been widely predicted in the Iranian media.
But Sheibani had reportedly been at odds with Ahmadinejad over a surprise government decision on May 22 to cut interest rates.
Both Sheibani and Economy Minister Davoud Danesh Jaafari were reported not to have been consulted over the decision, which many economists considered highly unwise in an economy which was already facing inflationary pressures.
Domestic politics is also heating up in Iran up as the country enters a crucial period leading to elections for the conservative-controlled parliament on March 14, 2008 followed by presidential polls in summer 2009.
The economy will be a top election issue and Ahmadinejad has been criticised for Iran’s high inflation and for ploughing windfall revenues from high oil prices into expensive infrastructure projects.
Both the industry and oil ministers issued stark warnings to Ahmadinejad over his economic policies after they quit.
Former oil minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh, a veteran of the ministry who revealed he had been sacked by the president, said that the country was heading to an energy “catastrophe” owing to high consumption.
Industry minister Alireza Tahmasebi also launched a stinging attack on Ahmadinejad’s economic policies in his resignation letter, complaining of under-investment and damaging personnel changes.
Prices of basic goods and services — especially vegetables and poultry — have leapt in Iran since the New Year in March, hitting the poor hardest.
The central bank has forecast that inflation will reach 17 percent in the current Iranian year to March 2008, compared with an official rate of 13.5 percent last year.
But many economists dispute even this figure, and Iranian parliamentary research has estimated that inflation this year is running at 22.4 percent on the back of money supply growth of a colossal 40 percent.
Social Security and Welfare Minister Abdolreza Mesri was quoted as saying earlier this month that 9.2 million out of Iran’s 70.4 million people were living under the poverty line.
Sheibani’s departure came on the same day General Alireza Afshar took over the job of deputy interior minister for political affairs from Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, one of the president’s closest confidants.
The only reason given for the change was that Samareh Hashemi had too much work combining the job as a top Ahmadinejad advisor with his interior ministry post which is responsible for organising elections.