An article written by Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, on his cabinet’s reform process and the financial crisis it is facing:
Over recent months, various issues have become the source of intense discussion and debate in the Kurdistan Region. It is not surprising that our fellow citizens are deeply concerned about the current situation and their concerns have reached a level higher than ever before. Their concerns are largely rooted in the financial crisis facing our region, in their daily struggle to secure a better life, and to raise their children in good health and with access to good education.
It is right that every citizen should pay attention to these concerns. The response of the KRG over the coming years will be to work toward ensuring that our economic system benefits all of our citizens. Our strategy should remedy social vulnerabilities, provide protection and safety, provide youth with real opportunities, bring about financial stability, and preserve our natural resources for future generations.
As we all know, the dramatic events of the last year were totally unexpected. It was a tough and challenging year for our people and the economy of the Kurdistan Region. We have been facing multiple shocks that have required urgent responses. The sharp decline in global oil prices from more than $100 to below $30 per barrel within less than two years, which was completely unexpected, has been catastrophic. It has severely affected our economic growth, our public revenues and our currency, and our social-economic condition.
Prior to the dramatic fall in oil prices, the Iraqi Federal Government had already been withholding the Kurdistan Region’s share of national revenue since the beginning of 2014. This had caused a surge in our budget deficit which hampered our government’s capacity to respond to these unexpected circumstances. ISIS’ aggression, compounded by the influx of nearly two million refugees and internally displaced persons caused by this war, has greatly exacerbated our financial situation. Despite our limited resources, the KRG remains committed to helping those in need during this period of turmoil.
The reform plan prepared by the Ministry of Finance & Economy, once implemented, should have a real and direct impact on all our citizens. Since the beginning of last year, I have personally supported the Ministry of Finance & Economy in their efforts to develop and implement plans intended to strengthen and enhance our capacities to respond to this crisis.
Our aim has been to raise the Ministry of Finance & Economy to an international standard in terms of financial administration, within the framework of our mission to achieve economic stability and sustainable growth in the Kurdistan Region. We are determined to reorganize the structure of public banks, to modernize the financial sector, to reinvigorate our economy and to galvanize support for the private sector. We are also committed to strengthening transparency and accountability within the government.
Achieving these goals will create an environment conducive to bringing about financial stability and durability for our government, and develop a modern economy in the Kurdistan Region. It will also provide a healthy, competitive environment for investment.
Despite the challenges facing our region, it is important to highlight the achievements of our region over the past 12 years. Since 2004, the economy of Kurdistan Region has witnessed remarkable growth. The KRG has taken steps to facilitate economic opportunities in the region. More than $40 billion was invested in the region between 2006 and 2013 of which $5 billion was foreign investment.
All of our social indicators have improved considerably over the past 10 years. However, our economy is facing structural and institutional impediments – onerous regulation, inefficient financial markets, and an inflexible labor market. To achieve more for our people we have to plan for the future by engaging with the current challenges and committing ourselves to strengthening our public institutions, to reform our economy and to strengthen accountability.
Therefore, we as a government will work as key partners with our business community, unions, trade unions and academics to support the reform process. This year will be a year of reform and modernization across government institutions. We will put in place policies aimed at reducing poverty, strengthening productive sectors, and we will pursue an agenda of growth so as to benefit our future generations.
I would also like to highlight the bravery of our Peshmerga. Our Peshmerga forces are defending the values we share with our partners in the international community. We have invested so much blood and resources to protecting the common values for which we stand.
We are at the forefront of the war against ISIS and we care for nearly two million refugees and IDPs, more than 98% of whom are Iraqi citizens. Yet, regrettably, the Iraqi Federal Government has provided almost no financial support to the KRG. Further, most of our partners in the international community refuse to directly arm our Peshmerga forces. This is dangerous. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that this is as dangerous as the threat of ISIS to the Kurdistan Region.
Considering the financial situation that we are going through, especially the markedly inadequate support for our Peshmerga, our institutions are in serious danger. Therefore, I would like to call upon the United States of America and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition to urgently raise their level of support to meet the needs of our Peshmerga forces and our public institutions. We, the people of the Kurdistan Region, especially our Peshmerga forces, expect more support, particularly financial support from our friends in the international community.
The people of Kurdistan have well-demonstrated their resilience. I realize times are especially tough, but I promise that we will reach our ultimate objectives. We will destroy ISIS, we will build new industries, including natural gas, which we will export to the world market. We will build a just, prosperous and united society. During this time of austerity, those who are more capable will have to share the burden with others who are less fortunate. We all have to work together.
Our reform plans will benefit all of us, above all the next generation. I am convinced that the decisions we make today in the near future will provide our children with real opportunities. That is what the new generation expects from us and we cannot disappoint them.