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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Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

“Ever since I was a child I used to go to the forest near Ajloun,” says Roqaya Al-Orood, a resident of Jordan’s most wooded region. “We always went to the same picnic spot and we had many happy times.” North-western Ajloun is close to Syria and the West Bank – locals refer to Jordan being surrounded by a “ring of fire” that also encompasses Iraq and Aqaba – but Ajloun’s forests have always been peaceful. “Then, one day in June 2014, I arrived at my favourite spot to find the forest had been annihilated. All the trees had been burned down.” These trees were several centuries old and Roqaya was appalled at the destruction. “It was very, very hard for me.”

Forest fires are a perennial problem in the Ajloun area, but their frequency jumped dramatically in the years following 2006. High energy prices were prompting some locals to circumvent rules forbidding the use of living trees for fuel. Retrieving wood from dead trees is permitted, so it was obvious why, as energy costs spiralled, the number of deliberately started forest fires was also spiking.

“This couldn’t be solved from a security perspective,” says Fadi Huwarat, who as head of the Agriculture Department in Ajloun at the time was tasked with finding a way to stop the trend. Many of the initiatives put in place only sought to clean up the garbage dumped in the devastated areas. Even these did not impress Mr Huwarat’s department. “They were all words and no action,” he adds. But he felt he had one piece of information which he could work with: “We knew the people violating the forests were young, because they were able-bodied.”

Mr Huwarat was still pondering this when the biggest violation of all took place. In late 2013, 27,000 square metres of forest were destroyed in one huge fire. Those working in civil defence were under intense pressure; many of those responsible for violating the forest had learned to deliberately set several fires at once to ensure firefighters could not combat all of them.

Mount Carmel forest fire
Mount Carmel forest fire

It was clear the threat faced by Ajloun’s trees was reaching a new alarming level. “In Ajloun the forest is a symbol for the town and for nature,” Roqaya says. “Every time you plan a family trip, you immediately think of the forest. I love the forest in Ajloun and think about it with pride and love. Everyone who lives here has a deep-rooted relationship with the forest.”

The forest’s biodiversity and its status as a source of oxygen are important in environmental terms, but they matter because of their economic benefit too. Almost 20% of the population benefit directly from tourism, driven by the healthy air and pilgrimage sites attracting both Muslims and Christians. Officials believe if Ajloun’s potential is realised 50% of local residents could benefit. Yet as the woods near the famously scenic road into Ajloun began to be despoiled by blackened wood and widespread fly-tipping, all that seemed in danger.

Mount Carmel fire damage - flickr - Hanay

It was at this point, in September 2014, that a young man who had recently started working at the Princess Basma Youth Resources Centre approached Mr Huwarat with a proposal. Suleiman Al-Qudah – who grew up in a village near Ajloun – was among those selected for participation in a youth leaders’ training programme. The sessions, run by the Jerusalem Centre for Political Studies in 2013/4 and funded by Westminster Foundation for Democracy, aimed to increase citizen participation in the political process. Our goal in funding the training was to equip around 60 young Jordanians with the skills they need to make a real difference. Report-writing, editing, networking, policy drafting, interactive workshops and study visits to assess the Moroccan experience in this field were all included in the sessions.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman told us, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

Suleiman wanted to come up with a proposal which could tackle the crisis faced by ‘the lungs of Jordan’. His first draft, says WFD’s Country Representative Ruba Fraihat, was very strong, but it was improved by the additional support she provided in helping him focus on its key stakeholders.

Just 27 years old at the time, Suleiman risked rejection on the grounds of his age. In Jordan, young people are usually expected to defer to their elders and challenging this approach risks encountering outright hostility. “Once when I was speaking at a symposium,” Suleiman remembers, “a tribal leader challenged me, saying; ‘who are you to say you know all the answers?’” The Arabic word for ‘old’ – kabeer – is the same as that used for ‘big’ or ‘important’. Suleiman’s message to young people in Jordan is that “you don’t need to be kabeer to be kabeer”. It was never guaranteed that Suleiman’s proposal, which sought to engage a wide range of stakeholders, would get the green light.

Fadi Huwarat; Suleiman Al-Qudah; Roqaya Al-Orood

In the event, it was exactly what Mr Huwarat needed. He had recognised that engaging with the young people responsible for many of the forest violations needed a youthful initiative. So ‘Rabaty’ – ‘My Forest’ – received approval in October 2014 and support. “The violations of the forest were giving me a pain in my heart,” Mr Huwarat says. “I chose ‘My Forest’ because the subject was very important; this was about reinvigorating the forests, not just cleaning them. It was innovative. And it engaged all parts of society, including a very important component of the community, women and young girls.”

The 45-day programme, which began in earnest in January 2015, saw the distribution of products, attendance at workshop events and a re-planting initiative. Suleiman’s was a comprehensive effort to reduce the number of forest fires. Both Christian priests and Muslim imams were engaged and spread the need for restraint. The programme saw academic groups highlight the environmental damage caused by the fires: citizen awareness about birds leaving the area, plant extinction and the shrinking forest’s falling oxygen production levels was raised. The programme’s supporters pushed for stronger punishments for forest violators, which led to a change in Article 43 of the region’s forestry by-laws.

“Ajloun represents a model of co-existence between Christians and Muslims,” Mr Huwarat adds. Suleiman, he says, helped strengthen those bonds. He did so in a “tactful way” which engaged the views of elders in the local communities the project was helping.

The programme achieved a tangible result. In the year before the programme, there were about 70 forest fires which were thought to have started deliberately. In the following 12 months, that number fell to about 30.

But there were many social benefits, too. In April 2015, Roqaya obtained permission to appropriate 6,000 square metres of land as an investment with her Loyalty Foundation. School students from all groups of society participated in her work. “The experience of ‘My Forest’ was the most important and effective so far,” she says. “I learned from Suleiman about the effectiveness of carrying out partnerships with local institutions and uniting the community as a whole. We had renovated and rehabilitated a whole new forest, with a new immigration system added for the seedlings too. When you are successful, you want to repeat it in other areas too.”

And that is exactly what Roqaya did. Drawing on the example of ‘My Forest’, she sought to repeat the process with a project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River. The same principles of environmentalism and economic empowerment apply, she says; young women who have dropped out of school are additionally taught handiwork skills. “I was inspired by Suleiman’s approach of networking, courting strategic partnerships and gaining support of the local community,” she says. “I hope Suleiman can join me in my new experience.”

Suleiman’s focus is expanding beyond Ajloun. He has been involved in the foundation of a new Social Democratic Party which aims to field candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections. He is running a campaign to improve the prospects of people with disabilities, based on his growing experience. And he is working to ensure the achievements of ‘My Forest’ are sustainable by implementing a follow-up plan with the local authorities. Ongoing prevention measures are being carried out in cooperation with a local civil society initiative called ‘Ajloun Neighbours’.

“I could have started the ‘My Forest’ initiative without Westminster Foundation for Democracy,” Suleiman says, “but not with a successful outcome or successful results. I used to be a regular guy, but after I went through the programme my personality was polished. It turned me from being a humble voter into a decision-maker.”

He hopes to persuade other people his age that they, too, can make a difference. “We are a very patriarchal society – but we need civil society organisations to work together to raise awareness that young people, and women, are capable of managing and being decision-makers.”

Roqaya agrees. “Thank you to Westminster Foundation for Democracy,” she says, “for supporting young people like Suleiman and creating a circle of people who are hearing these ideas.” Roqaya believes they help “reinforce the whole community” and says “such values only strengthen one’s loyalty to one’s town.” She adds: “The sustainability of the forests equals the sustainability of the people.”

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Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

One of the thematic areas of parliamentary strengthening Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed in recent years is financial scrutiny – the topic of an event which took place in Tunis in March 2016.

The March 12-13th event brought together MPs and officials from three North African countries: Tunisia and Morocco, whose parliaments receive support in this area from WFD, and Mauretania.

The technical discussions explored in detail the fundamental principles which underlie scrutinising public spending, including both ex-ante budget oversight and ex-post financial oversight.

Margaret Hodge, the former Chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, offered her insights into what makes financial scrutiny work effective.

Attendees also benefited from the experience and expertise of Jeremy Purvis, the peer and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, also contributed by providing input about financial scrutiny in a devolved context. Lord Purvis has presented and facilitated discussions on this topic in Tunisia before. Dominique Boily, an academic from the Canadian School of Public Administration, also contributed to the session.

Two MPs from the Moroccan Parliament spoke about their work. WFD has supported the development of a Public Accounts Committee in Morocco – the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Tunisian MPs and around 20 staff interested in the legislative process also attended. WFD’s programme in the country focuses on strengthening the committee responsible for the oversight of financial expenditure.

The conference concluded with a declaration of ten recommendations. These were lodged with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and have subsequently been accepted in Tunisia – an excellent outcome from a successful event.

A parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is a step in the right direction for oversight and transparency, something WFD is ready and able to promote in parliaments around the world.

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Speak up and speak out: Our message to women this International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Every day across the world, women experience discrimination purely because of their gender.

It might not be instantly recognisable. Discrimination can take discrete forms – unequal wages, lack of women in leadership roles at top FTSE 100 companies. But it exists, and can often take a violent turn.

As the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, take a look at how three of our programmes are finding practical ways to help achieve further change…

Empowering women in Uganda

In July this year WFD coordinated Uganda’s first Women’s Parliament – a major part of our EU-funded programme in the country. Tackling violent behaviour towards women is at the heart of what we are doing, and this programme aims to ensure the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is actually implemented. To do this WFD wants to encourage a greater dialogue between women, civil society and politicians to ensure that issues which matter to women are dealt with at the national level.

What is so shocking about the situation for women and girls in Uganda isn’t just the harrowing experience of violence and discrimination but the feeling that there is nowhere to turn, that this is normal, that they deserve this treatment. One of the wonderful outcomes of the Women’s Parliament is how it empowered women to speak out and raise issues of importance to them. Beatrice Chelangat, director of local NGO Gender REACH, highlighted how ground is being covered and progress is slowly being made: “People are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.”

Our programme’s main goal is to ensure that women in Uganda understand how CEDAW can help them eliminate violence from their own lives and communities.

Uniting women across MENA

Our support for the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence unites women from across ten nations to press for reforms to legislation that impacts on women and girls.

Take the most recent Coalition meeting that took place in early November. Its main goal was to create a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim. The coalition meetings provide a space in which women can share experiences of how discriminatory laws have been defeated in other Arab nations and find a way forward to tackle the issues with their respective parliaments. That is what Gilberte-Zouaine MP took from the latest meeting. She said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab countries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

It’s felt that this regional approach can gather momentum in favour of women’s rights across a region with an existing difficult context for women to work and live in.

The first step in this process is to raise awareness of the forms and consequences of violence. The more women know about their rights and how to access them, the easier it will be for them to take a stand. Secondly, having discussions on these issues across the region provides examples of best practice in how to deal with what is often perceived as a controversial issue amongst traditional elites. Finally, WFD has encouraged the development of Violence against Women Laws in four of the ten countries the Coalition operates in (Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon).

Together, these three steps will help provide solid progress for women who want to access justice. But getting the legislation through parliament is only the beginning. Changing cultural attitudes that discriminate against women is a long process, but we are confident the Coalition’s work will contribute toward this end.

Promoting women in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Improving representation is one of WFD’s four outcomes, and it’s this which our programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina is focused on. Its emphasis is on providing practical help to get women into politics. By actively engaging with the media and civil society to ensure women are represented and listened to ahead of the 2016 local elections, the team hopes to yield some impressive results.

This autumn we’ve seen a series of local discussions bringing together local women councillors to discuss issues of importance ahead of the 2016 elections, like this event at the University of Mostar. A common theme which has emerged from these discussions is the critical role played by political parties. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar), for example, mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented. This is something that is surely felt here in the UK too – it was big news this year when the shadow Cabinet split roles 50/50 between men and women.

The debate over the relative merits of setting quotas for women will run and run. A quota is not a gateway to equality, which is why the work the Bosnia team is doing is so important. By using a range of different activities including training courses, public debates and media training they are providing women with the important skills they need to make a dent in the political landscape.

 

Change can be achieved, and in a relatively short period of time. Look at the UK: as recently as the 1990s it was legal to rape your partner if you were married. No longer. Women across the world trying to eliminate abhorrent laws which condone violence should believe that progress is possible. One hundred and eighty nine states have ratified CEDAW; the sustainable development goals put gender equality high on the agenda; and at WFD the focus is now on implementation and getting women represented in institutions that shape fundamental decisions. Now, more than ever, there is international momentum towards improving women’s rights.

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Coalition of Women Arab MPs combat violence against women

On 5-6 November, WFD supported the Coalition of Arab Women MPs’ seminar on combating violence against women.

The event was hosted by the Lebanese Parliament, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Chair of the Lebanese Parliament’s Women’s Committee, MP Gilberte Zouain.

MP Gilberte, who has been a strong supporter of the coalition and spoke strongly of the need for change, said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab coutnries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

The seminar brought Lebanese MPs together with public institutions and women MPs from nine other Arab countries, creating a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code – which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.  The seminar highlighted the need for Parliament to act on this issue and showed the unity of Arab Women MPs in fighting such legislation. It’s a problem which exists in many other Arab countries’ penal codes: notably, Morocco and Egypt have amended the equivalent provisions in their penal codes.

The meetings were chaired by MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan, who highlighted the important role of the coalition and their colleagues. She said: “We as parliamentarians are required to eliminate all types of legislative discrimination.”

All coalition members agreed on the need to empower victims through legislation; that there is no honour in violence against women; and that we need practical recommendations that lead to the abolition or amendment of legislation regarding rape marriage.

The delegation was hosted for lunch by Ms Randa Berri, Vice President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women.

(Pictured above: Ms Randa Berri, Vice president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women and MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan)

The coalition meeting hosted a number of key speakers, including Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and Director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University; and Abdelfattah Jamil from Jordan, who stressed the important role that men can play in advocacy and awareness-raising. The women commended the men in the room for their support.

Mr Nourredine Bouchkouj, Secretary General of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, said: “On behalf of the Arab federation of parliamentarians I wish you all of the success in your deliberation so that we can get full equality for women for the good of our nations.”

(Pictured above: Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University)

WFD’s Dina Melhem highlighted individual cases that have pushed attention towards the issue but highlighted that we don’t truly know how many girls and women are living at home with their rapists, because they are forced to live in silence.

(Pictured above, Coalition meeting)

Hasna Marsit from Tunisia followed this by saying that where the law does protect them, women should be encouraged and supported to report their plight. The coalition can contribute to this change by building awareness of the issue and to provide a counter-narrative that empowers the victim, something they will be working on over the coming months. The Coalition will meet in January to mark the Arab day to combat violence against women.

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A fresh start for democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa

Following last Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, WFD’s Dina Melhem has been reflecting on the impact the award can have across the Middle East and North Africa region.

“Across the region, political blockages create an urgent need for dialogue, the pre-eminent place of which in creating long-lasting solutions means there are many lessons to be learned from the Tunisian example,” she argues in an article for the Guardian’s Global Development blog.

You can read Dina’s full thoughts on the regional context of the win here.

As she stressed:

“The Quartet’s decision to engage all the parties demonstrated the need for inclusion rather than exclusion – a key principle for pluralist democracy and for prospects of a smooth democratic transition, in Tunisia or elsewhere.”

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Interview: WFD’s Nejib Jeridi on the Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet’s Nobel Peace Prize win

Nejib Jeridi, WFD’s Country Representative in Tunisia, was interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme. Here’s a transcript of the full interview with presenter Mark Mardell; or listen in to the version broadcast on the programme from around 22 minutes in.

Does the Quartet deserve this prestigious award?

Yes. The effort that they have made and the impact that they have had on the Tunisian transition towards democracy is so big that they deserve it.

What have they actually done? How did they operate?

It was an initiative they took in 2011 –  a moment where Tunisia was risking the failure of its process of transition towards democracy. In 2013 had faced a difficult moment. At that time there were difficulties and a crisis of legitimacy in Tunisia. They intervened at the right moment with an initiative to bring all the political actors together and to try to find a consensus solution – and they have succeeded to do so.

So they stepped in at a critical moment and they represent lawyers, big business, union?

It [the Quartet] is made by the four most influential and legitimate civil society organisations in Tunisia and they just stepped in to help legitimate institutions to find a solution for the problems.

So they stepped in at a critical moment. How did they do that? What did they do – bang people’s heads together, or what?

The initiative was to invite the key political parties – those who are represented at that moment in the constituent assembly; those who were not represented but still influential in the Tunisian political scene; then, in addition to themselves the four civil society organisations; and to come together and sit on a roundtable and try to reach a consensus in an informal way.

And how is the state of Tunisian democracy at the moment?

At the moment huge steps have been taken. The constitution has been adopted with a vast majority of 200 out of 216 MPs.  Three elections – the two rounds of presidential elections and the legislative election has been done fairly and successfully and the establishment of a new parliament, the election of a president for the republic and new government which is now making the rest of the steps that have to be done in order to make the transition towards democracy succeed.

And are the Quartet still active?

Not as they were before the adoption of the constitution, but they are still there.  They meet for time to time to find solutions for some problems and to try to support the achievement of consensus and I think they still have a role to play in Tunisia.

How are people reacting to the news in Tunisia?

I’m in London currently, I’m not in Tunisia to know how people are really reacting.  I guess people will be happy with this – they will see this as a recognition of the efforts that have been done, for the peaceful transition, and for the Tunisian model of reaching consensus. We have avoided bringing problems to the streets.

What were the problems? It was quite a violent time.

Actually in 2013, Tunisia has lived through some very difficult moments.  At that time we had two political assassinations. There was a dispute over the legitimacy of the constituent assembly and the government in place at that moment – a constitutional misunderstanding about the legitimacy of the constituent assembly.  There were some people that were afraid that what happened in Egypt at that time would be duplicated in Tunisia and at that’s why I said in the beginning that the Quartet stepped in at the right moment to prevent that to happen and to keep the solution political.

When we look across at what was known as the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the one place where it seems to have worked out well.

And I think this is what justified this Nobel prize award – I mean part of the credit for this peaceful transition comes back to the Quartet in addition of course to the other political actors.  But the Quartet also has the merit of bringing these two political parties together and helping them to reach a consensus.

For press enquiries about the Nobel Peace Prize or on WFD’s work, please contact Head of Communications Alex Stevenson on alex dot stevenson @wfd.org

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