September 7, 2014 by KPF  – The Kurdistan Region has faced many challenges over the past decade, namely the corruption scandals which plagued and tainted the Kurdistan Regional Government’s reputation (KRG), as well as the lack of public faith in regards to the transparency and efficiency of governmental departments.Despite KRG’s attempts to rebuild public faith through economic growth, and social stability, the political dynamics of the region remain contentious. KRG adopted economic policies that portrayed Kurdistan Region as a secure, and business orientated region. The neo-liberal reform policies of KRG since 2003 led to the dismissal of pressing issues regionally such as lack of governmental accountability to confront corruption, nepotism and rule of law.

The visible nepotism in Kurdistan Region’s governmental departments and institutions are caused by the absence of legal bodies that are able to sue political parties for malpractice, violating the constitution. In the absence of a legal procedure, structure or body that can hold political parties responsible, nepotism will continue to surface.

Economic reforms

The economic reforms in Kurdistan Region include the timid privatisation of public enterprises, tax reforms, trade liberalisation, and free-market price. The reforms were aimed at attracting foreign investment, as opposed to boosting local start-up businesses and agricultural projects. Local industrial enterprises and strategic sectors such as agriculture inevitably paid the price of lack of governmental investment, and interest.

The lack of governmental-led interest in agricultural projects has led to the region’s dependency on foreign e.g. fruit and vegetables. In a report conducted by Alliance for Kurdish Rights 2012, several villagers expressed interest to grow crops, but criticised KRG’s lack of interest in providing villagers’ access to water for farming. The lack of governmental subsidies to ensure farmers can produce locally is disregarded by KRG, and will create greater problems in the future. The KRG can rebuild trust and faith of the public by acknowledging their concerns, and dealing with them directly.

Local farmers, complaining of KRG’s lack of interest in local production should be taken seriously. Unfortunately significant number of farmers have been forced to become consumers, leaving their farms behind to seek jobs in the main cities or alternatively becoming civil servants within public institutions.

Local corporations have focused on importing goods, as opposed to producing them regionally because of KRG’s economic reforms. They are the fastest growing sector, but have led to the collapse of local businesses. The KRG has facilitated the importation of goods through the free-market price and KRG share in employment.

This can be resolved through easy-access to sufficient water for farming, providing modern equipment to develop farming, supporting local products by enforcing taxes on imported products, and giving farmers insurance by setting up a compensation plan in cases of natural disasters that would spoil their crops.

Bank loans should be increased and expanded, which will allow small farms to benefit as well. KRG should consider providing basic services to all villages, and regard them as the main sources for farming in Kurdistan. The projects could include investment in strong water pipes accessible to all villagers, schools with high-teaching standards, construction of roads, transportation projects. These are long-term projects that KRG can fund for the sake of Kurdistan Region’s independence agriculturally.

Political party reforms are necessary

Civil servants salary takes up approximately 80% of KRG’s annual budget. Thousands of public employees were registered by political parties as part of their membership recruitment promises at the expense of public funds, particularly during the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) division of KRG’s administrations in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The Iraqi central government withheld KRG’s share in its annual budget, leading to a crisis in the region because of the dependency of economic growth on KRG’s payroll of civil servants as the largest cash release to the market. In the past six months alone, the Kurdistan Importer Union announced that an estimated 80,000 employees were fired in the private sector, decreasing sales by 60% so far.

Winning over public faith and trust

The KRG’s cabinet formation is an opportunity  for the creation of new policies, aiming to boost public faith in KRG and trust. The new government is composed of five major political parties, making it one of the most representatives governments in Middle East. It has the ability to confront corruption through cooperation with each other, and ensure the applicability of the public prosecutor and integrity committee.

The reforms packages of KRG institutions could give rise to more public anger if mismanaged and not channelled appropriately, but through commitment of KRG to uproot corruption and implement the rule law, the public will be able to take KRG’s reform packages seriously, regaining trust in the government as a result.

Currently, public frustration are at a peak high with the increased prices of fuel and goods in the region, as explained in a previous article here. However, public anger is directed at KRG because middle class and lower class families are affected directly in the region by the crisis. The lack of faith in KRG construes the parameters of anger and frustration, but if this is restored, KRG can implement contingency plans with the public support.

KRG ministeries should task themselves with initiating comprehensive reforms projects, highlighting and illustrating their strategy that can be applied within a specific period of time. It is crucial that reform plans are approved by Kurdistan’s parliament, specifying the clear objective of each proposed plan. More importantly, local non-governmental organisations should be consulted in regards to their respective fields, further justifying policies adopted by KRG in the region.

This article was co-authored by Sarkawt Shamsulddin and Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar.