Kurdistan Regional Government unveils inclusive anti-corruption strategy

Corruption is a significant and persistent challenge in Iraq. The Transparency International corruption perceptions index puts Iraq 166th out of 175 countries, indicating a huge need to improve public sector financial management and tackle corruption.

The security challenges that Iraq faces, including the threat of ISIS, have contributed to challenges to the nature and make-up of the state and made cooperation between the central and regional governments difficult. Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has enabled engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.  WFD support has been instrumental in enabling the development of an anti-corruption strategy for the Kurdistan Region that can improve public trust in government across the region.

Previous attempts to produce a plan to tackle corruption failed due to the lack of engagement and coordination of the key institutions. Under the sponsorship of WFD, Iraqi Kurdish institutions mandated to fight corruption, have worked together for more than 12 months in harmony and produced a draft anti-corruption strategy which is about to be launched.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions. The strategy recognises the need for greater compliance with international standards and to involve civil society in the monitoring process.

Former Minister in Jordan and anti-corruption expert, Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq supported WFD in the assessment of the draft Anti-Corruption Strategy for the Kurdistan Region during a workshop held in Amman. Dr Touq described the strategy as one of the most advanced in the region, noting that this is particularly impressive given that this draft represents the first of its kind in the Kurdistan region.

“The draft strategy of the Kurdistan region includes methods on how to develop an action plan for the implementation phase”. Dr. Touq said.

“Developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase.”

The draft strategy has broad support among institutions in the Kurdistan Region, with the strategy steering committee integrated by members from the Parliamentary Committees of Integrity and Finance, Council of Ministries, Supreme Audit Board, Public Prosecutor and Commission of Integrity. This approach, promoted by WFD, ensures high level buy-in which in turns helps to ensure the likelihood of successful implementation and decrease of corruption.

The draft strategy adheres to high international standards and best practice and has benefited from the sharing of experience from the UK, the Iraq Federal Government, Jordan, Indonesia, and Kosovo; the strategy was also peer-reviewed by an expert from Palestine.

In addition to expert input, the steering committee undertook a broad consultation of key stakeholders, reaching out not only to institutions mandated to deal with corruption but also to a range of CSOs, activists, practitioner groups, academics, and journalists for their views and feedback. In addition to surveys, the steering committee held three focus group discussions with civil society. This policy of inclusion was noted as having long-term benefits by Dr Touq who said that “developing a strategy from the bottom up provides opportunities for the wider society to contribute and means the development of the strategy will certainly support the implementation phase”.

As a result of this broad consultation, the draft strategy adopts a multi-sectoral approach to tackling corruption, including specifically attributing a role for the political sphere in fighting corruption.

(Photo: Dr. Muhyieddeen Touq sharing his experiences with the delegation from Iraq and Kurdistan region CoIs, Amman, Jordan- 11 Jan 2017)
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How WFD helps fight corruption around the world

By working to increase the accountability of both parliaments and political parties, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping establish the conditions where corrupt politicians and officials find it hard to flourish.

Corruption, according to the Department for International Development, is “often a symptom of wider governance dynamics and is likely to thrive in conditions where accountability is weak”.

That makes WFD a part of the solution to the issues being grappled with in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Global Anti-Corruption Summit taking place this week. World leaders, business figures and civil society representatives are coming together to agree a package of practical steps to expose corruption, punish the perpetrators and drive out the culture of corruption. It’s by addressing the latter that WFD makes its contribution.

“Instead of being a source of the problem,” Chief Executive Anthony Smith says, “parliaments and political parties – both vital for a healthy, functioning democracy – can make the transition to being a source of momentum in tackling corruption, often with WFD’s support.”

Where there are parliaments and parliamentarians that want to make a difference, WFD shares practices from Britain and elsewhere which can work. Take Ukraine, where corruption often tops the list of public critiques facing the parliament. WFD, in partnership with GIZ, has helped launch a Financial and Economic Analysis Office with the Verkhovna Rada to ensure that MPs have better access to information and can make evidence-based decisions about public spending.

Parliaments and MPs face a reputational challenge of their own in countries around the world. The UK has learned a lot about the need for transparency and handling personal finances, as the 2009 expenses scandal showed. We also understand that in some countries, parties require payments for individuals to become candidates. In others, parliamentarians are often expected to support their constituents because public services are poor. We can work with reformers to help introduce better systems and tackle behaviours that shield corrupt behaviours. Our inductions for new MPs – like the induction we carried out in Kyrgyzstan last autumn – are examples of this.

WFD also helps build the ability and responsibility of parliaments and political parties to tackle these systemic issues effectively. In Iraq, we are encouraging cooperation between the Integrity Commissions based in Baghdad and Erbil.

Often this work involves brokering relationships. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” WFD offers assistance in this work.

Earlier this year Mr Hajwal and colleagues journeyed to Jakarta to learn about Indonesia’s reinvigorated anti-corruption efforts – an example of south-south learning facilitated by WFD. Later this month WFD will support the Indonesian Chapter of Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to deliver a trial run of the best practice workbook they have developed to help parliaments tackle corruption. The regional event, organised with GOPAC, will allow parliamentarians from across South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia where WFD is developing country programmes, to test and refine the guidance.

More broadly, parliaments and political parties have an important role to play in championing an independent judiciary and enforcement of the rule of law. They perform a crucial task in supporting the main institutions that do anti-corruption work on the ground: the police forces, investigators, prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies. If there is evidence of state interference with independent probes, say, it is up to MPs and political parties to confront them.

Finally comes the responsibility of parliaments and political parties to listen to and honestly represent the views of citizens who overwhelmingly find corruption to be the source of many of their problems. In our programmes, we share with partners the importance of transparency – because even the best politicians working in a bad system will not be able to make a difference unless they can rely on public support. That only comes about if parliaments can provide an open understanding of the way in which the system is working.

Many of our programmes are taking positive steps in parliaments determined to respond to public opinion. Often public expectations can be met by setting up committees responsible for keeping an eye on where money is being spent. Our previous programme in Tunisia saw the establishment of a committee tasked with both financial scrutiny and anti-corruption work. Among its tasks was “recovery of the looted money, and the issues of managing the confiscated money and properties, as well as the auditing of public banks and public enterprises”. That set in stone MPs’ commitment to delivering more oversight and accountability to Tunisian citizens, which is taking place with WFD’s support.

‘No one can fight corruption alone’

WFD’s approach to programming aims to incorporate the very flexibility that is needed to develop effective approaches to combatting corruption. Context becomes essential when deciding how to combat corruption.

It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not end corrupt practice. As WFD’s University of Oxford post-doc Susan Dodsworth says: “Corruption is a product of the incentives people face. To eliminate corruption we need to change those incentives. We can only do this is if we understand the context that people are operating in, both at the micro and macro level.” That is why WFD’s country-specific context-analysis informs our programme design – and helps turn the UK’s goal of wiping out corruption around the world a reality.

Our aim is to deliver the multilateral approach called for by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu from Nigeria, who spoke passionately about how to eliminate corruption at our Westminster Community of Practice event back in March. Her key message was the need for a multilateral approach. “No one can fight corruption alone,” she said. “With technological advances and the development of a global economy the world has become a smaller place. No single country can legislate and succeed by itself.”

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Helping Iraq’s Integrity Commissions tackle corruption

“We need to blend our efforts with others’ experiences to fight corruption in Iraq,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says.

As David Cameron tackles anti-corruption in a major summit on the issue in London, Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is making steady progress.

Mr Hajwal, an important figure in Iraq’s efforts to ensure good governance, is committed to enhancing his Commission’s capacity. He wants it to respond effectively to recent reforms by the Iraqi Government. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme in Iraq is helping him achieve this by bringing together those engaged in similar work around the world. Working with the National and Regional Commissions to increase their skills by showing them the Indonesian experience in a recent study visit to Jakarta (pictured above), for example, is an important part of our programme.

This process is far from straightforward. The Integrity Commission wishes to work as an independent institution, but implementing its decisions is proving challenging. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Hajawal adds. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” Further to engagement with WFD programming, the Baghdad Commission will now prepare a report on what has been learned about the mechanisms of investigatory work, public prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in fighting corruption.

2 - Erbil - flickr - jason pitcherErbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, aims to shine a light on corruption issues. Photo: Jason Pitcher (Flickr)

It’s not just Mr Hajwal who will benefit from WFD’s work. WFD will continue to support him and his colleagues working on similar issues in the Kurdistan Region’s Integrity Commission programme. More broadly, better governance will help all the direct and indirect stockholders who are interested in fighting corruption: the parliament, audit institutions, judiciary system, etc. It is part of the UK Prime Minister’s “golden thread” of good governance whose importance will again be underlined in London. This week’s summit is set to unveil a package of measures which will seek to drive out the culture of corruption wherever it exists around the world.

In the longer term, once institutions with strong integrity take root in Iraq and elsewhere, individuals will benefit too. Reducing corruption through strengthening relevant institutions and integrity commissions will raise accountability and better oversight efforts on public finance, which will directly reflect on individuals’ situation and their shares in states’ incomes. This is what WFD aims to do in Iraq and our programming remains committed to supporting efforts to strengthen public accountability.

Achieving this builds Mr Hajawal’s hope that by combining skills and lessons from different experiences and similar contexts, Iraq’s Integrity Commissions can learn about the effective mechanisms that make such institutions strong and independent – and overcome the different challenges which inevitably emerge along the way. “I am ambitious that WFD can help the Integrity Commissions in Iraq,” Mr Hajawal says, “and build the Commission’s capacity.” It will not be easy. But this is work which, in both Baghdad and Erbil, is already underway.

4 - Conclsuion meeitng between both commisisonsThe Baghdad and Erbil Integrity Commissions’ leaders discuss the findings of their study visit to Indonesia with WFD

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