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KRG Reforms: Small Fish Netting

Since 2009, the rise of opposition in Kurdistan, tens of reform packages were introduced to the public. Yet, to date, no high-ranking official such as ministers, deputy ministers, general directors, and governors prosecuted for corruption charges, let alone prime ministers. 

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By Sarkawt Shamsulddin

Washington- On February 7, 2017, Erbil Chief of Police Department, Abdulkhaliq Tal’at, announced that police have received a list of officials who involved in corruptions. He said that these officials will be arrested “no matter what position they hold,” he confirmed. Previously, head of Kurdistan Integrity Commission, Anwar Ahmed, told reporters similar statement. However, the lists did not mention any general directors or ministers while they are the people who have the highest authority in the ministries and the individuals in the lower level hardly are able to commit in corruption without the consent from a minister or general directors.

The story of promising reforms and accountability proposals in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to mid-1990s when the two major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), were sharing the government positions. Back then, both parties hired tens of thousands of party members as employees, and thousands were retired as ministers, general directors, generals and military officers. The public revenues were under the control of mainly the KDP and PUK, but smaller parties benefited from unregulated customs and taxing imports.Furthermore, Kurdistan’s infrastructure projects were looted and millions of oil barrels smuggled. The entire system is based on corruptions.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials confessed that there are skyrocketing corruptions in the public sectors. Yet, no high-ranking officials have been prosecuted for any corruption cases despite many charges against them. Very few and lower level are sometimes become the target of so-called anti-corruption campaigns.

After 2003, corruption became synonymous for the KRG. The KRG gained access to billions of dollars of Iraqi Federal Budget and the oil resources. The international organizations for transparency listed Iraq as one of the top corrupt countries in the world. The Kurdistan Region’s share in the corruption is not much different from the rest of Iraq. There are other reports including the State Department annual reports about Iraq and Kurdistan Region confirming the corruption in the public institutions. 

The Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdistan’s de-facto president Masoud Barzani and leaders of the PUK have adopted multiple proposals to conduct reforms and hold those involved in the corruptions accountable. Nevertheless, these are just words, and in action, but in practice, many of those accused of corruptions were promoted.  There were some rare cases in which arrest warrant issued for some high-ranking individuals, but there were released without prosecution and those who were not able to come clean, left the country through KRG facilitation because what they did was on behalf of the parties. Some who refused to shut up accused of other charges or killed in different scenarios. The former mayor of Sulaymaniyah, Zana Muhammed, suicide case in the Asayish prison is an example.

In some cases, corruptions made legal such as retirement benefits. The PUK and KDP registered thousands of party members as retirees. The investment and the oil sectors are two other areas where political parties designed these sectors to benefit themselves. For example, according to Kurdistan investment law, the investors, local or foreigners, are allowed to own the lands for free if they build a project there. However, neither locals nor foreign investors are able to get these lands for free; they normally pay a “facilitator” to do that for them. The facilitator has access to key governmental officials through the ruling parties’ connections. In other cases, the ruling parties, PUK and KDP, make the investors accept them as partners without paying a penny and many investors did that because that is the only way they get approved and allowed to work in Kurdistan.

One of the reasons these characters cannot be prosecuted is that they were helping their political parties to gain more money and exploited the public position in favor of their parties. Or they did a lot for the political party they represented and therefore, the political parties kept a blind eye on them. Those who have been arrested or in the recent lists to be arrested are those who mismanaged public money in a very lower level such as the head of a unit or a department. At best, the prosecutions did include individuals in the mayoral positions. 

About Sarkawt Shamulddin (54 Articles)
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst on Middle East Affairs and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation

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