By Abdul-Qahar Mustafa:
Iraqi Kurdish politicians from different political parties have recently negotiated with one another to work out their differences over the inactive parliament and presidential issues, with the hope to put an end to the political crisis in Kurdistan. However, the results of their meetings were not made public in detail and all they told the public was that they would hold more meetings in the future.
Many people wonder why these politicians have avoided making the results of their meetings public. As a matter of fact, some people, including me, have been assuming that there might have been more complicated and severe issues, other the inactive parliament and presidency issues, that hinder the development of peace and consensus between Kurdish political parties. It is possible that some politicians are hiding the real nature and size of their political differences from the public for fear of becoming the target of criticism, embarrassment and public reaction and outcry.
I am not optimistic that the conflicts you see going on today between Kurdish political parties will be solved easily, and any time soon, because I believe the main conflicts is not only over how to reactivate the parliament, or how to choose a new speaker for the parliament, or how to find an alternative person to become the new president of Kurdistan, but is also over the existence of corruption, weak rule of law, violence, human right violations, abuse of power and unequal distribution of wealth over all the provinces and population of Kurdistan.
It’s a tough challenge and the Kurdish political parties will not be able to reach any agreement in solving all these issues without determination, honesty, dedication, compromise, and sacrifices. Furthermore, agreement made on the basis of political party interests and concessions, rather than on the common good of the whole people of Kurdistan, will not result in a permanent settlement of conflicts, particularly on the issue of corruption and the weak rule of law.
The issues of corruption and weak rule of law are really the worst and most difficult ones to solve in my opinion, because there isn’t enough transparency in government institutions, nor there is an independent, dedicated judiciary in Kurdistan.
Many reports have indicated that there is a considerable number of politicians and officials holding key posts in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been involved in corrupt practices at different levels of the government and they take unilateral and biased political, economical and security decisions that benefit only a certain few people in Kurdistan. These reports indicate that officials, who are affiliated to the ruling political parties, have obtained a lot of wealth illegally while they serving in government offices.
I’m personally of the same opinion, and I strongly believe that corruption and corrupt officials do exist in the KRG and the reason I’m so confident to make such a claim is because, first, not all Kurdish politicians and government officials are perfect individuals or innocent angels of God, nor they are all the best people or role models of ethics and morality. The second reason that makes me believe corruption exists in the region of the KRG is that you see some people, who once were poor and didn’t have wealth at home, enter politics and hold top government posts, and then all of a sudden they become super-rich politicians owning money and properties worth millions of dollars.
In another words, they were poor before they held key government posts, but now they are super-rich and have many things such as millions of dollars in cash, shares in stock markets, and savings in foreign banks. They own companies, shopping malls, apartments, gold store, restaurants, car dealerships, hotels, private businesses, brand new expensive cars, and several houses in different places inside and outside Kurdistan. However, in places where there is true democracy and the rule of law there really isn’t much money in politics and poor politicians don’t enter politics and come out of offices as millionaires except through collecting their monthly salaries.
Now, someone might say that, if there is corruption and corrupt officials in the government, then who are those corrupt officials and what is their names and is there any evidence against them? Well, the answer is, there definitely is corruption and corrupt officials in the KRG and those officials who are involved in corruption are the most important ones who hold key positions in the government. The biggest evidence to prove my claim is that many officials who hold government offices at different levels have become multi-millionaires in Kurdistan within a short period of time and no person with logic and reason would believe that all Kurdish politicians and officials were rich before they entered into politics and held government posts in Kurdistan, nor would anyone believe that they have earned all those millions of dollars and properties only by savings from their monthly salaries, or investing their salaries in businesses to make profits.
Obviously there is a reason that people get involved in corruption. In the case of the KRG, I believe the main reasons that some officials and politicians have gotten involved in corruption is because of greed and political advantage because the more black money they gain, the more powerful they become and, of course, that would give them the upper hand and the advantages of getting more supporters, buying votes for elections, dominating politics, establishing a dictatorship of majority rule, and to fight and undermine their challengers and opponents through media propaganda and through economic punishments and rewards.
The corrupt officials usually are manipulators and lead a double life. When they come before the public they behave and speak all innocently, as though moral and loyal to people but, in private, they plan and make decisions that only pleases and benefits themselves and not the whole population of Kurdistan.
They are mostly serving themselves, and their relatives, families, clans, friends and political parties. If they truly are honest and dedicated public servants then how come they are the richest people in Kurdistan who own billions of dollars companies, houses, cars dealerships, shopping malls, gold stores, banks and savings accounts in foreign banks, while so many other people, who have been government public servants with a long record of service, have not become rich but are rather struggling to pay their bills and meet their basic needs of life?
In addition to this, people do know that in truly democratic countries, people who get into politics do not become rich when serving in the office or even after leaving the office because they already have enough money before they get into politics or get elected. while in Kurdistan it is the opposite because people become rich after they get jobs at government offices and not before. This is the biggest proof that many government officials who have become rich have been involved in corruption one way or another.
The corrupt officials are also smart enough about how to get away with it, especially if they are the ones who control all government institutions such as the ministries, police, judges, courts, and anti corruption agencies.
They usually start their corrupt activities by first making contacts and resources and building up a strong background and network for their safety. Over time when they gained enough power, money and resources, they distribute the black money among their family members, friends, and relatives and close party members and then they set up businesses and necessary connections outside the country. They become very connected and powerful, to the point where they can even tamper with the records to make them non-transparent or safely guard their money in someone else’s name or in another country from where it becomes hard to get the details.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is very hard to catch the corrupt officials and bring them to justice especially if they control the government and have the power and a huge amount of resources in money, labor, accessibility, support, and media to evade the grasp of the law. I mean, how is it possible to prove a bribery case when a political party bribes the chief of a tribe to get all votes of the people from the same tribe for a certain candidate during an election? And who is going to teach the people of the same tribe how they should vote, how true democracy works? And whose responsibility it is to teach people of the tribe to not sell their votes to a candidate who may not have enough qualifications to run a government post?
The second reason is, how can you catch a corrupt official or a politician from a political party when there are no strong and independent judges nor there is a unified strong front of people to put pressure on their MPs to scrutinize suspicious government officials or to make them to bring the corrupt and lawless officials to the court of justice.
Clearly, the situation of corruption and weak rule of law has caused social and economic damage on society in Kurdistan. Conflicts, division, hate, tension, mistrust, boycotts, verbal and physical conflicts have consequently arisen between many people and politicians.
On the one hand, the corrupt side has been holding the key and vital posts in government institutions. They are not letting go of power because they are gaining so many benefits from staying in power. They are taking full advantage of the power of their offices to create economic benefits for themselves through different illegal channels and means and by using money and the majority votes, in order to achieve their long term goal which, in my opinion, is to establish an absolute majority dictatorship rule in Kurdistan.
On the other hand, you have another group who is fighting to take the power away from the corrupt group or at least exert enough pressure on government to make reforms or at least change the behavior of the corrupt ones and make them respect the rule of law and not use government offices as a platform for personal gains. Honest people of Kurdistan expect government officials to stop corrupt activities and carry out their constitutional duties and responsibilities with consciences and dedication and in the interests of the whole people of Kurdistan.
Furthermore, all the honest and justice loving people of Kurdistan, from different political parties, religions, tribes and regions, have been advocating the rule of law, democracy and the common good for all people regardless of political affiliation, religion, region or language dialects. They want all the corrupt and lawless officials removed from power. They want to see an end to all the injustices that occur in a daily basis in Kurdistan. Meanwhile the dishonest and corrupt officials are sticking to their guns and using all their powers and resources including money, supporters, business partners and militia forces against anyone who attempts to weaken them or remove them from power. They cling to power and want to keep it at any cost.
Some might say that the reason many people have been suffering from economic problems is because of the financial crisis and ISIS war. I say corruption has caused as much damage as the financial crisis has caused to the economy of Kurdistan. For example, I made an estimate, based on the annual budget and the income that the KRG have made every year, that it could have saved billions of dollars over the past 14 years, for a population of approximately 5 million, prior to ISIS and the financial crisis, but they didn’t, and of course this is because of the mismanagement of resources and corruption.
The existence of corruption and weak rule of law in Kurdistan has indeed resulted in economic damage. It has caused a decline in living standards because money which was meant for the public has been siphoned off by certain corrupt government officials affiliated to certain political parties. And, obviously, when the money at the top of the government is misused, the rest of people at the bottom of the chart are deprived of basic necessities of life because the money which should have been allocated for the development of the country and its people is actually being misused by the people at the top.
Furthermore, corruption has caused poverty and income inequality between ordinary Kurdish people and government officials because the well-positioned officials took advantage of government activity at the expense of the rest of the population.
The quality of life has gone down in Kurdistan in terms of health and happiness because it is directly related to the services government provides to the public. We see on our own eyes how there is a lack of basic services such as electricity, cleanliness, waste management, transport, safe roads, water, fuel refineries , housing, employment, and social security. And we see how undeveloped is the energy infrastructure.
Basically, what is happening in Kurdistan of Iraq is that some powerful, rich and influential politicians rule over Kurdistan and they have big business (ignorant and hypocritical) partners in Tehran, Ankara, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, London, Paris and Washington who turn a blind eye to their corrupt rule as long as they cooperate with them in fighting terrorists. They have taken everything: power, money, credit, fame, name, glory only for themselves. They have put their personal interests, political parties and followers at the the top of their priorities instead of thinking or serving the whole population of Kurdistan regardless of political party affiliation.
They are not working to serve the people and fulfill their duties and responsibilities with dedication, conscience and in accordance with the law because, if they truly were working in the interests of the people and Kurdistan, then how come most of the people in Kurdistan are poor while they are rich?
There are many families in Kurdistan who can’t meet their basic needs. They live in rented houses and live day to day on a small portions of food. While I have not seen an adequate supply of housing or distribution of land for all the people who are in need in Kurdistan. I have also not seen a distribution of wealth and true and equal accessibility to employment for all equally, nor have I seen enough consideration for the low income, poor and disabled people.
What is worse and more embarrassing than the corruption itself is that some of these corrupt officials come from families of Peshmargas and martyrs who have excellent records of sacrifice, freedom struggle and services for Kurdistan in the past. They are old freedom fighters (Peshmargas) but with time, they have turned into corrupt politicians and got obsessed with money and power. They have been exercising power since Kurdistan was liberated from the Baath fascist regime in 1991.
People of Kurdistan, from both Bahdinan and Soran regions, voted for these corrupt officials who mostly are affiliated to Kurdish political parties and that is how they reached and remained in power.
People of Kurdistan never knew that their freedom fighters would one day turn into greedy corrupt officials. They gave them credit and the benefit of doubt to form a democratic government and exercise power democratically at the levels of president, prime minster, minster, parliamentarian, governor, high-ranking security officer, and so on.
People wanted them to achieve power and rule over Kurdistan because they thought these old members of the pehsmarga and martyr families were the most deserving and popular ones among the people. They in fact saw no one else as better, more loyal, and worthy of their votes.
They voted for them with the hope that they would work to built a just society where people can live under the rule of law and enjoy rights, freedoms, peace, security, economic prosperity and access to equal opportunities in education and work in Kurdistan.T hey voted for them so that they would care about Kurdistan and the future generations of Kurdistan and not let the people suffer and go through more hardships like the previous generations had undergone under the fascist rule of Saddam Hussein.
People of Kurdistan, including me, appreciate the sacrifices that these freedom fighters have made for the people of Kurdistan. They have a great deal of respect for them for the sacrifices they have made for people and Kurdistan. However, they certainly don’t appreciate and respect corrupt officials in the government, no matter how brilliant looks their past record of service.
Unethical behavior is unacceptable in government institutions and it is certainly anathema to the beliefs and ethical values of true freedom fighters because true freedom fighters aspire to pure, dedicated, trustworthy and patriotic-spirited behavior. True Peshmarga and martyrs of Kurdistan not only worked for freedom, justice, the rule of law and human rights, but also often sacrificed their lives for these values.
What is needed to solve the conflicts and differences among Kurdish people and political parties and to put an end to our economic and political crises in Kurdistan is not only amendments to the constitutions or laws in certain areas, but also a change of our officials. In fact, not just a change in the officials, but also a change in the mind set of our officials. Corrupt officials need to return to ethics like justice, honesty, respect, dedication, integrity, and patriotism. These are values and basic norms that our true freedom fighters and all good people of Kurdistan hold.
Democratic institutions and the rule of law need to be strengthened and public officials and employees should be accountable to the people and discharge their constitutional and legal duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, and uphold the rule of law and public interest over private interest.
Abdul-Qahar Mustafa is a graduate student from Saint Luis High School in Canada. He is an advocate of Justice, Democracy and Human Rights. He currently lives in Sarsing/Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan.