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Sulaimaniyah Shake-Up Gets Cool Reception

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Local government officials have been sacked in an effort to tackle graft - but locals aren’t convinced. By Rebaz Mahmood in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 159, 20-Dec-05)


Sulaimaniyah residents are sceptical that a recent local government shake-up will change much in the city.

Mayors were fired and administrators in problem ministries, such as water, electricity and fuel, were moved to other posts ahead of last week's parliamentary elections.

The changes came in response to rising criticism from residents of this relatively safe Kurdish province, which is dominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. They have accused local authorities of abusing and monopolising power, systemic corruption and not providing basic services.

"Many people have become rich while thousands of families are suffering from lack of water, electricity and housing," said Halmat Shareef, a musician in Sulaimaniyah.

Party and government officials launched a campaign to win back the support of citizens – in particular students, who have been among the most vocal protesters – and promised to tackle corruption and listen to voters' concerns.

"There are problems, and there is corruption. But at the same time there is questioning and investigations," said Hersh Muharram, who was recently appointed director-general of electricity after managing private projects for the local government. "Changing officials is a good thing."

"The problems have grown and are receiving increasing attention," added Qadir Hamajan, head of the Sulaimaniyah municipality. "Even Iraqi president Mam Jalal [Talabani] talks about them."

With about 90 per cent of ballots counted on December 20, the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq reported that the main Kurdish coalition, the Kurdistan Alliance, captured 87 per cent of votes in Sulaimaniyah. The Islamic Union of Kurdistan, a moderate party that ran on a platform challenging the dominance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraqi Kurdistan, took 11 per cent.

Shwan Atoof, head of the Sulaimaniyah youth centre in the Kurdistan Youth Freedom Organisation, said Kurds voted for strong Kurdish representation in Baghdad and were not swayed by the local government changes.

Critics have charged that the changes were a pre-election manoeuvre to bolster support for the alliance. Some who lost their jobs said they were scapegoats.

"What are the criteria of corruption?" said Serbast Osman Qadir, manager of Sulaimaniyah's water directorate who was demoted after 25 years of service. "This was just a media campaign to attract voters."

Kawa Hamafaraj, a management professor at Sulaimaniyah University, said simply shifting staff would not automatically improve the local government.

"The administrative philosophy should be changed, from directors to civil servants to guards," he said. "Everything should be in line with the law, job descriptions should be specified and strict monitoring needs to be imposed."

Chawder, a local weekly newspaper affiliated with the PUK, recently published a confidential, 25-page report revealing that no professional records were available for 80 high-level Sulaimaniyah government employees. The report, which was drafted by Sulaimaniyah's auditing department, demanded the government review the cases and determine if those civil servants are qualified to hold their positions.

Shara Mustafa, a civil servant, said, "Age, experience, and skills are not criteria. If you have party and nepotism, you will get anything.

"Ten per cent of the posts are given to qualified people. In this government, we find posts for people, instead of finding people to fill posts."

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist.
Created by anita
Last modified 2006-01-07 03:02 AM

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