Published 16 March 2008
It is the seventeenth anniversary of the uprising in Kurdistan-Iraq this month. The Kurdish Regional government have attained a degree of success in transforming the region. There has been progress in certain areas like Human Right, freedom of expression, reconstruction and security.
Local and national elections, have taken place and many formats of governing have been trialled in the Kurdistan region without finding the right formula yet.
On the surface, the KRG is a far cry from the rest of Iraq. The security situation is under control to a degree and there appears to be a construction boom in the larger cites of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dhok.
The main political parties give the impression to be a united front with one voice and one aim, which is the interest of Kurdish people.
The parties’ manifestos made Promises of change, the future looked very bright for the Kurds, but seventeen years on, those promises were not kept. The progress has been very slow, bogged down at times by the ineffectiveness of both administrations of PUK and KDP.
The Political Figures who seized power at the start of the liberation from Saddam’s government have barely changed. Nepotism is very rife and has had a very negative effect on the image of the Kurds in the eye of international community. It has produced high level of incompetence within the different departments of government.
The lack of Bipartisan Corporation between the two administrations has been crippling parliament. The much-needed reforms that are necessary to make KRG a functioning modern state have been deferred and forgotten.
The dark period of infighting between the political parties in the past is still a palpable contributor to the slow pace of harmonization and reconciliation.
Corruption and self-interest by certain individuals who holds key positions within the government are frustrating the Kurdish public and has created a lot of resentment.
The consequence of the inefficiencies within the KRG is evident in the isolation Erbil government is feeling. Furthermore, there is a visible trend in diminishing Kurdish influence on decision making in Baghdad. The other undesired consequence for the KRG has been the way Turkey being able to undermine the Kurdish administration without any strong objection from the Kurdish Allies and the international community.
The squabbles between the two main Kurdish parties although in private now, have crippled progress and reform.
Mistrust and lack of corporation with each other has led to the current state of isolation. Since the so-called unification of the administrations, there has been less improvement in the quality of governance and respect for the rule of law. The disagreements between the two powers have only contributed to lack of legitimacy and recognition by the international community.
Kurdish politician were handed an opportunity particularly since the fall of Saddam but they failed in exploiting it. They had the Funds and enjoyed relative security, (credited to Peshmarga forces), unlike the Arabs in the south the Kurds were able to manoeuvre more freely. However, they missed the opportunity and they are still not utilising it to its potential.
The current Iraqi laws in place are mostly from Saddam era or older which have not been modernized under Saddam for obvious reasons. This outdated law surly does not represent the ambition of Kurdistan and its people.
If the Kurds have aspiration to be independent from Iraq and seek closer relationships with the international community, in particular EU and US, they ought to start reforming the current laws without more ado.
Iraqi law may be out of reach KRG jurisdiction, however, as part of federal Iraq, the KRG have been able to enact new local legislation. These powers could be used to legislate and enact new laws to suite local needs as well as meeting international standards.
The start of such reform should commence with transparency, public consultations and expert advice. National interest should be the focus of the reforms coupled with the rule of law and due process.
The draft KRG constitution has been in the making for some times now, however, there have been no public consultations. One hopes before the ratification, local and foreign constitutional counsels are consulted and at one stage, there will be a public consultation.
One option the Kurdish parliament could have considered would have been reforming itself by comparing its institutions to a modern transparent state. Nevertheless, this option was never considered. There are many good examples of highly efficient and functioning government models, where there structure could be adopted and configured according to Kurdish people’s needs.
It will be impossible to set out the extent of the reforms in detail, however long overdue reforms needed in almost all the current laws and the bylaws: Constitutional, Commercial, company, Criminal code, Human Right, Family, housing, employment and all other relevant laws.
The constitutional and judicial reforms ought to take priority to establish the way the KRG operate within the Rule of law and Due process. More efforts needed to establish strong democratic institutions, which are independent from the government.
The Constitutional reform must define the function of the Legislature, the Executive, the judiciary and the Armed forces [Peshmarga]. The separation of power is a vital ingredient for a successful state. The judiciary must be independent from the government and this should not only be in theory but sanctions have to be in place to make sure the rules are adhered to. The implementation of the doctrine has to be the main aim of such reform.
Parliament role need to be clear and must have all the power to legislate and approve the appropriate laws. The members of parliament should be accountable to their constituents and failure from the MP part should have disciplinary consequences.
There may be vague agreements and poorly drafted documents on the role of parliament. Nevertheless, the weakness of the drafting is a major contributor to parliament’s lack of authority and inability to hold the government into account.
The government must be accountable to parliament and not do as they wish without any consultation or vote of parliament when introducing new legislations.
Severe sanctions could be put in place by parliament for those who act unconstitutionally and ignore their duties to the public.
In the past the Kurdish leadership, haven consulted neither parliament nor public on any crucial decisions and treaties. The notion that the government is there to serve People not to be served by the people is far from the way the KRG had operated and for that matter any previous government in Iraq.
The two-tier government should end with the Peshmarga forces and security services united under control on the KRG parliament not the government. The time of militia control has passed. Therefore, the Kurds needs to move on from their old ways into modern transparent style of government.
Comprehensive review and updating of laws regulating commercial transactions, contract law, company law, corporate regulations, banking and financial services, for local and multinational companies is vital to a successful economy. Introducing robust and fair laws will encourage many multinational companies to start investing in Kurdistan. The new KRG investment law has been a step in the right direction, however, the new law lacks details and refer to too many vague national laws.
Multinational corporations need stability and certainty, if this is catered by having clear and fair laws in the KRG, it will act as a very good incentive to draw in foreign capital. The lack of well thought through laws and uncertainty will only discourage investors, therefore immediate review of the current company and commercial laws should be underway.
THE CRIMINAL CODE AND HUMAN RIGHT
Criminal Code reforms are mainly Iraqi national legislation remit; however, the KRG should be able to enact new laws, which applies in KRG areas. The main areas of reform ought to start particularly with those laws, which are deriving out of religious text therefore make way for sensible laws. The criminal code needs to be brought up to date to be compatible with Human Right laws.
A major overhaul of corruption laws needed. Criminalising the activity must be a priority to attempt to eradicate corruption and reprimand individuals and organisations that abuse their authority and are corrupt.
NEPOTISM AND INCOMPETENCE
The other important area I would like to mention is the introduction of new regulations or legislations tackling Nepotism. This phenomenon is eating at the heart of government like a cancer. There are far too many individuals who have a highly critical appointments, not because of there talent and expertise but because who they know and who’s sons or daughters they are.
Failing to regulate nepotism and make the most of the right talents in the right places will only make the Kurdish government weaker and more inept.
The Reforms needed are endless and could not be discussed in a single article by one person. It is not a simple task reforming old entrenched laws and structuring new democratic institutions. The government needs to lead with the reform incentive in all area of governing. The pace of change has been slow and painful and produced very little results.
KRG is at risk of becoming further isolated and of losing more ground to emerging Iraqi Arab parties if they fail to push forward reform of the relevant laws, change the style that they govern and to establish strong democratic institutions in the next five years. If the change towards more accountable leadership does not start immediately the future is uncertain for the Kurds, and in particular the vision of independence.