George Mason’s Fourth Annual Conference of Good Governance

Today I had the opportunity to speak to international affairs students at the Fourth Annual Conference on Good Governance at George Mason University, where close to 200 Kurds are currently enrolled.

Good governance is a critical and ever-present issue for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Like any government, the KRG isn’t immune to problems such as corruption or misuse of public funds. And while we have made significant progress in terms of institution building and economic development, we recognize that there are areas in governance and transparency that need strengthening.

To address our challenges, we’ve hired world-renowned consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess the Kurdistan Region and provide a roadmap for how to improve. Now, a strategy is in place to address their finding, as well as a timeline and benchmarks for what the KRG needs to do to improve.

Among the issues the PwC report pointed out were the KRG’s antiquated penal code, Administrative Law, and procurement system. In October 2009, the Kurdistan Region began addressing these issues. We now have a new penal code pending approval, and a code of conduct for officials with an Executive Office of Governance and Integrity championing reform from within.  We have even revised our procurement procedures to improve transparency and ensure that only the companies with best practices work with us.

This is just the beginning of good governance for the Kurdistan Region and there is much more to do. Good governance will always be an ongoing process, but we are moving in the right direction.

Here is my ful speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me here today.

It is a pleasure to be at George Mason. Your international affairs program clearly has a superb reputation. And I’m pleased to hear that there is close to 200 Kurdish students currently studying here at graduate and under-graduate levels across of range of majors.

When we share our educational experiences, we share our cultures and viewpoints. In this we build bridges of understanding that transcend political boundaries cultures and other barriers. So I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad Iraqi Kurds are welcome here.

I’d also like to thank Allen Merten, President of George Mason, and Professor Shiraev (Shrive) for their leadership and efforts

We’re here today to discuss good governance. 

Good governance is the foundation for stability and economic prosperity.  A goal that most governments yearn to achieve, but regrettably, many fall short of.

The nature of government is to be in a constant state of reform, revision, change and—most importantly—renewal.  

So no matter how noble the cause of any individual to rid government of corruption, over time without the proper mechanisms and diligence in place, inefficiency and ineffectiveness will seep in.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is in a unique situation. Having been effectively running our own affairs since 1992, our Region has undergone significant transformation; transformation in the size and proficiency of our government and in the increased scale and speed of our economic development. 

In just 8 years, we went from being in a humanitarian crisis to starting to develop our economic base. 18 years since our first experiment in governance, we are leading the charge in building our institutions infrastructure and society.  During Saddam’s rule, Iraq, to include the Kurdistan Region was under international sanctions.  Our Region of the country, was also under Saddam, and at times, regionally enforced embargos.

Add to that a bloody internal conflict that almost irreparably split our society and you could say that we, as a government did not have the best starting point.

Thanks to our American friends, notably then Secretary of State Madeline Albright, we overcame those internal differences and began the difficult task of unifying our administration and society.  For Kurdistan, this laid the foundation for what was to come.

After the just decision was made to liberate Iraq, unlike the rest of Iraq, at the fall of  Saddam’s regime, the Kurdistan Region was more experienced in democracy, and the delivery of public services. In short order, we’ve been able to build a fully-functioning and legitimate government under the auspices of the Iraqi Federal Constitution. 

But I am not here to tell you that everything is now fine, that we are perfectly incorruptible and transparent!

I’m not going to do that. The fact is, like any government anywhere, the KRG has not been immune to corruption or misuse of public funds. We have come to learn that we can always improve upon the level of transparency and public accountability.

We are, however, taking steps to address these facts. Not singular steps, but fundamental moves that will protect the people and the government from corruption, and ensure public funds are used for their intended purpose—whether tomorrow or twenty years from now.   We are taking this issue seriously, before it is too late, and before it becomes much harder to wrong the rights within our system.

What’s important is that we recognize we can strengthen our system

We’ve recently held two regional elections. Both were declared free and fair by the United Nations, the U.S. government and numerous NGOs.  We’ve also participated with enthusiasm in the nationwide elections to ensure our strength at a federal level.  

We’ve seen numerous related successes:

  • Almost 80 percent of the Region’s 2.5 million eligible voters voted in our Regions elections last summer.
  • At least 30 percent of Kurdistan’s parliament is women.  It is well known that parliaments with large percentages of women better perform their oversight role and decrease level of corruption.
  • And every religious and ethnic group is represented—not just Kurds, but Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, Yazidis and more.

Good government begins with good elections. But it doesn’t end there.

So what is the KRG doing about governance issues and transparency?

Well, we’re doing a lot.

After years of deliberation on the best approach, we hired world-renowned consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers—an American firm—to first assess the situation in the Kurdistan Region, and then provide a roadmap for how best to improve.

Through no prodding from outside elements, we hired an outside consultant, a third-party, using our own funds. Why did we do this?

As I’ve said, having lived under Saddam’s tyranny, the people of the Kurdistan Region know bad government. We’ve been gassed, tortured and tormented. Attempts were made to shatter our culture and civilization.. On top of that, we’re not exactly in the best of neighborhoods.

Despite all of that, we want to build businesses ourselves and have a stake in the way our government is renewed and transformed. We want to provide opportunities for our children. We want to build real, enduring connections to members of the global community. Because, in the end, we know that we need to make this work. And to make this work—to make our place in Iraq work—we need to be increase accountability to our citizens and better deliver public services and transparently use our resources as we develop our infrastructure.  

So it is about actually accomplishing what we set out to achieve and also about doing it in a credible manner.

PwC has worked with dozens of nations worldwide. They are independent, with no interests in the Region. And they will attest to the fact that the KRG has given them complete and total access. There have been no Sacred Cows. Nothing has been off limits.

In 2006, PwC commenced their initial assessment. They met with government officials. They met with citizens. They met with business leaders. They examined documentation, records, bookkeeping, and strategies.

Last year, they completed the assessment and provided a report.  In July 2009, three years later, standing side-by-side former Prime Minister of Kurdistan—Nechirvan Barzani—PricewaterhouseCoopers announced the Strategy to address what they found in their assessment. They also set forth the timeline and benchmarks for what the KRG has to do to improve.

This includes delivery of services, transparency of government and concerns over possible corruption. Aside from noting where we are doing things right, the PwC report lays out a series of gaps and shortcomings in the KRG approach to governance and transparency.

No one took it and said you’re wrong. There was no push back. We as a government—as a people—said we have to fix what needs fixing.

To give you a sense of what we’re dealing with, let’s look at three examples of the types of problems they found.

  • First, the KRG’s penal code did not conform to United Nations recommendations. In fact, it was the same penal code from 1991, as under Saddam. Clearly, this was not good.
  • Second, the Region lacked an up-to-date Administrative Law, an enforceable code of conduct for government officials. You can’t be called out for doing something wrong, if there’s nothing that say you’re behaving improperly. This is basic, but important.
  • Third, the procurement system was antiquated and allowed for not only graft to seep in from within, but allowed the government to be taken advantage of from contractors. It also allowed for the procurement of goods that did not result in the highest quality at the lowest possible price. This had to change.

Knowing about the problem is one thing. Fixing it is another. So what are we doing?

Following upon the delivering of the report and recommendations of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the KRG began taking steps in October 2009 to resolve the many issues it faces.

Let’s return to those three issues.

  • First, we have updated our penal code—through coordination with PwC and the Harvard Law School’ s Director of the  Institute on Global Law & Policy. That law is now is pending for approval by the government.
  • Second, to address the Administrative Law issue, we drafted a Code of Conduct for Executive Officials of the KRG, which was passed by the Council of Ministers. It will now be implemented by the newly established Executive Office of Governance and Integrity. This office not only will implement the Code of Conduct but act as a champion to drive the implementation of the governance and transparency strategy.
  • Third, to reform our procurement system, we looked at the new rules in place from Iraq’s federal government. Along with PwC, we revised these rules, tightening them up and are adding extra provisions—such as features unique to the Middle East.

This includes, for example, a provision to ensure that contractors who seek to do business in the region are responsible and reliable companies.

They must have a verifiable Anti-Corruption Compliance Program—in much the same way that the U.S. Federal Acquisition Guidelines require companies to have effective compliance programs as a condition to doing business with the government. 

Companies who fail to meet this requirement will be declared ineligible to do work with the KRG.

So we put in place a draft revision of the procurement law. That will dramatically change how procurement is done, making sure everything is transparent and competitive.

There’s still much to do. In fact, we have a multiple year program of initiatives.

With these types of programs, everyone wants to see quick wins. So do we. We want to point to evidence of real progress. But we’re in this for the long-haul. We’re not trying to paper over our issues.

So how do we know if it’s working?

  • There are soft benchmarks, such as the laws we pass.
  • The big test is going to be when we have accountability actions against those people who don’t get onboard and follow the rules and procedures that we are now establishing.
  • And there are other tests, such as how outside groups view the KRG—from civil society organizations, such as Transparency International, to business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce. How do we rate, and are companies—respectable companies—doing business with us.

As I’ve said, the Kurdistan Regional Government knows its faults. We’ve highlighted them, and we’re filling them in. And we’re doing this on our own. We are moving in the right direction.

In fact, just the other day the Kurdistan Region passed its budget for the year. This may not seem like much to outsiders. But it is a considerable achievement. We encourage—and survived—all the public debate and scrutiny. We made it through the parliamentary procedures. And at the end of the day, we built upon the accomplishments of the previous KRG administration.

Our budget is now available online, on the Kurdistan Parliaments website.

Good governance is a challenge faced by every country in the world. It’s an immense challenge. We are going to have setbacks, challenges and limitations. But we’re moving forward.

And I can say, even with a change of government last fall, our progress has not slowed. On the contrary, the current cabinet, led by Dr. Barham Salih, has adopted this program fully and is adhering to the KRG’s new governance principles of:

  • The Rule of Law
  • Public Service is Public Trust
  • Governmental Functions Shall be Open and Transparent
  • Public Funds Must Always be used for Their Intended Purposes

Everything we do is tailored to us building institutions, a foundation upon which our regional government can build a successful future. We’re not looking for big personalities or publicity stunts. We’re looking for results.

Through this, we hope to live up to the sacrifices made by Iraqis, in particular Kurds, and American and other coalition partners to free Iraq from tyranny. We look to restores its place in the Middle East as a positive actor. I am confident, that this will begin with the Kurdistan Region.

So this is what we’re doing. We’re proud of it. We believe it will deliver results. And we’re committed to it.

Thank you.

3 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. akam qader #

    Good job also try to develope the sports in kurdistan

  2. Mohammed Ali Bapir #

    Profound and well informed.

    As to the election, and voting:
    I was Monitoring 2010 Iraqi elections with the European Union Monitoring team,and Yes your information is quite precise.


  3. Amy #

    Profound and well informed.

    As to the election, and voting:
    I was Monitoring 2010 Iraqi elections with the European Union Monitoring team,and Yes your information is quite precise.


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