MERI Forum 2018, P1: Decentralisation and Institutionalisation

Panel – 1: Reforming the Governing System: Decentralisation and Institutionalisation in Iraq

  • Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government
  • Bashir Khalil Hadad, Deputy Speaker of Iraqi Parliament
  • Ali Dway Lazim Al-Fartusi, Governor of Misan
  • Nawzad Hadi, Governor of Erbil
  • Turhan Mufti, Minister for Iraqi Governorate Affairs (Chairman)

In his introductory talk, Qubad Talabani, focused on the challenges the Kurdistan Regionl Government (KRG) faced during the turbulent years of 2014-2018, the reforms they undertook to overcome these challenges, and the barriers for decentralisation in the KRG’s administration. The budget cut from Baghdad, Islamic State onslaught, widespread corruptions, overemployment in the KRG, and demonstrations were among the challenges Talabani referred to. He argued that the issue at stake was the very survival of the government and the Region. The Cabinet’s unity and determination in initiating reforms were critical, emphasised Talabni. The biometric registration of 1,200,000 employees, identifying ghost employees, and streamlining 413 different services the KRG provides for citizens, are among the reforms.  “The reform process is not finished yet”, emphasising that “the next KRG government must sustain the reform process and make it a top priority”. As for the ‘devolution of power’, Talabani believed that further research must be conducted to make correct decisions on how to devolve power appropriately and minimise bureaucracy. Local government officials need to have clarity who they report to, the central or the local authorities.

Turhan Mufti, panel chairman, explained that this panel is designed to focus on the challenges the local governments have faced in the past four years, and the prospect of decentralisation, in both Iraq and Kurdistan Region (KRI). He emphasized that decentralisation does not need laws alone, it also needs culture. Iraq needs a sound communication culture between governorates and the central government and also among governorates themselves. Such a relation must exist between KRG and Baghdad as well. Decentralisation must be accepted as a culture for successful relations. Mufti claimed that decentralisation in Iraq is a process characterised by lots of ebbs and flows, as the policies and laws are dependent on the political mood. As an example, he referred to second and third amendments of law number 21 of 2008. While the second amendment was in line with decentralisation policy, because of change in political mood the third amendment is not in favour of decentralisation. Meanwhile, Mufti referred to differences in authorities of the KRG governorates and those of the other governorates of Iraq due to presence of different laws for each group. Later, the high-ranking policy- and decision makers each tackled the issues from different perspectives.

Bashir Khalil Hadad emphasised that Iraq is a federal state and devolution of power to Regions and Governorates in Iraq is based on the constitution and the law number 21 of 2008. However, these laws are imperfect, they overlap and are not implemented properly. In keeping the problems found in Kurdistan Region, he described how he found officials in the Iraqi governorates he visited were confused about who the ultimate decision-makers were, their local governor or the ministers in Baghdad. Failure to implement the law and provide services was inevitably amongst the causes of authorities’ confusion and resulted in people’s demonstrations. In terms of Baghdad-Erbil relations, Haddad argued that even though according to the constitution Kurdistan Region has its powers and competencies; nevertheless, these are not properly delegated, as Kurdistan does not receive its constitutional share of budget. In Haddad’s view, the solution for such problems is via thorough implementation of the constitution  He also believes that law number 21 of 2008 gives too much power without appropriate checks and balances to the governorates, therefore should be reviewed by the Iraqi Parliament.

Denoting that the issue of decentralization is a new, post-2003 experience in Iraq, Nawzad Hadi argued that political rivalries have crippled the governing system and governors do not have a free hand in expending the budget that is allocated to the governorate. He argued those governorates which have had a political party winning a majority vote are served better than the ones where no party wins outright. Often governors have the budget at their disposal, but cannot use them to their optimal effect due to party political rivalries.  He referred to the case of Basrah where the governorate executives were unable to provide services and complete strategic projects in spite of having $2 billion dollars at its disposal.

In disagreement with Dr Hadad, Nawzad Hadi argued that the Iraqi laws (No. 21 of 2008) and the Constitution give the right level of authority and sovereignty to Iraqi governorates (other than those in the KRI), but in reality the devolution of power has not materialized in accordance with the laws. He believes in the KRI, power has not been sufficiently devolved.

Ali Dway Lazim Al-Fartusi considered decentralization “a pillar of democracy and good governance”. However, decentralization has not been smooth process in Iraq. In Fartusi’s view ministry officials are not eager to delegate the powers easily to the governorates. He considered Law No. 21 of 2008 problematic, requiring further amendment to protect local governments from external hindrances.  The law has already been amendment three times, in 2010, 2013 and 2018. Al-Fartusi calls the latest amendment “dangerous” as there is regression in authorities endowed to the governorates. He noted that the earlier amendments were never given the chance to be implemented.

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