Where is the Kurdistan Statistics Agency?

Michael Rubin

By Michael Rubin:

Kurdistan’s rise from the ashes of the Anfal demonstrates Kurdish resilience. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein pulled his administration from Iraq’s three northern provinces, he hoped to starve the Kurds into submission; he never believed the Kurds would fill the vacuum and establish a functioning government.

Today, Kurdish officials say that they govern the most stable and democratic region of Iraq. Oil certainly fueled an economic boom, which Kurds are riding nicely. Hawler and Sulaymani now have more of a skyline than Baghdad. But appearances do not always equate with healthy economies. In Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, for example, modern facades cover decrepit infrastructure. Kurdistan is no Ashgabat, but a Kurdish government which has only a superficial understanding of its own region will never take Kurdistan to the next level.

When it comes to management and planning, Kurdistan lags behind the Middle East, even if not the rest of Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has 21 cabinet ministers, not including Qubad Talabani’s recent appointment as “Minister for Coordination and Follow-Up.” Five other officials enjoy ministerial rank. Manning ministries does not automatically bestow good governance.

Behind the shiny façade, there is little order to Iraqi Kurdistan’s development. Traffic is chaotic, electricity tenuous, medical care inadequate, education lackluster, and the environment unprotected. Lackluster planning means Kurdistan is one earthquake away from a disaster far worse than that which struck the Kurdish town of Van, in eastern Turkey. Agriculture languishes and, as in many other countries enjoying an oil or commodities boom, the new wealth accentuates an increasing cost-of-living which makes life much harder for the poor or unconnected than it was just a few years ago.

Governments the world over have their faults, but that should not be an excuse for KRG complacency, nor should personality cults and recourse to nationalism become an excuse to avoid policies which can benefit all, from the richest Barzani to the poorest shelgham cart operator. KRG policy is still constructed ad hoc, done more on personal whim than on hard data. Even if Kurdistan wanted to professionalize its planning, it could not at present do so because it lacks a statistics agency.

Every month in the United States, politicians, economists, and the media await release of the latest unemployment figures. Likewise, the government collects and releases data on everything from housing starts to imports and exports.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains a consumer price index.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture releases monthly data on crop production. Each of the 50 states produces its own statistics which become the basis for scores of experts and technocrats to calibrate policy.

The United States is not alone. Every European country collects statistics. The Turks do as well, although Turkish budget specialists admit politicians will sometimes falsify the statistics which are based less on hard data and more on interviews. Even the Iranian central bank collects and release statistics showing food inflation from month to month, and comparing prices over the year.

Many Kurdish politicians live in a bubble; they have no idea of market prices. The most well-to-do Kurds have servants and employees who do their shopping and cooking. Neither KRG President Masud Barzani nor Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani eat in restaurants, shop in the bazaar or more modern supermarkets, nor do they warm their own bread or cook their own eggs. The Barzanis are not alone: Parliamentarians, ministers and their deputies, and other senior officials exist in a different society than the people they serve. That is, of course, not a problem exclusive to Kurdistan, although the problem is more pronounced in many Middle Eastern countries than in the West.

If these same politicians wish to make policy to benefit the people they claim to represent, then they should do so on factual basis. They should be able to chart not only the unemployment (and underemployment) rate from month to month, but they should also have at their fingertips the price of rice, meat, fruit, and tea in the market. The real estate bubble has made both developers and those receiving gifts of public land instant millionaires, but it has also raised the price of rent beyond the grasp of pensioners, displaced Kirkukis, laborers, and the unemployed. Accurate statistics could also demonstrate the KRG’s commitment to place merit above party affiliation when it comes to scholarships awarded to Kurdish university students to study overseas. Charting income from oil exports to Iran and Turkey, as well as customs income at Ibrahim Khalil would also promote the transparency nearly every Kurdish politician has said he desires.

Every KRG prime minister enters office promising reforms. Neither Barham Salih nor Nechirvan Barzani delivered substantively, because both maintained a government calibrated more toward personalities than data. No matter how capable Ministers Ali Sindi and Qubad Talabani may be, there can be no professional planning or “follow-up” absent the data upon which to base policy.

An apolitical Kurdistan Statistics Agency not only could professionalize government and improve policy in Iraqi Kurdistan, but it could also become a mechanism to demonstrate inequity and discrimination against Kurds in Turkey and Iran. Both Ankara and Tehran issue often questionable statistics relating to the status of Kurds under their control. Absent an alternative professional service—even if it must remain for diplomatic reasons a surreptitious one—then neither Kurds nor the international community have a mechanism to disprove their lies.

The KRG is now more than 20 years old, older than the independent states of Eritrea, South Sudan, Timor Leste, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Kurdistan may be booming, and the Kurds might rightly be proud. But the era of complacency and ad hoc policy should be consigned to the past so that future generations might also flourish.

Copyright © 2012 Kurdistantribune.com

10 Responses to Where is the Kurdistan Statistics Agency?
  1. Jonathan
    December 17, 2012 | 12:37

    Michael! You are not doing Kurdistan Region a favor by pointing out the obvious; you are only doing a favor to the KRG. You want to see statistics agency? They will give you one — and very soon.
    They will enact a law in a few weeks if not days; they will set up that agency you are after. A puppet one. Like everything else they have done.
    They are capable of venting any kind of pressure, coming from within or abroad.
    They will patch it up; all for the sake of survival. Barzani leaders vision is for the Barzani family — and that is to stay in power for eternity. A tunnel vision.

  2. Baqi
    December 17, 2012 | 17:15

    2 years ago, I had written something urging KRG to computerize the system which could make things much more easier and faster. It never happened and the reason is utterly clear.

  3. Suleiman
    December 17, 2012 | 18:51

    Interesting read. I agree. However, please stop bringing Iran and Turkey into the matters of South Kurdistan. Michael, I wish you would just stick to your point.

  4. kurd
    December 17, 2012 | 21:50

    you are right and your ideas must be attended,as you said Mr.Rubin and I think so, Kurdistan regional government or government officials they have not any planing to do anything for governance style better and all works that concern to life and destiny their peoples, however, pretend themselves when appear in TV or speak to Kurdish publications they are the best politicians, and they have done all things to people of Kurdistan,and life in Kurdistan is paradise, but in fact these saying are far from truth and now that happen in Kurdistan is another thing…
    If we look at Kurdish people living we see that cost – living for greatest of them is more difficult and always must they run to bread,while property of our government is plenty,but it is not divided equally and this property only for several personality who apply it by their desires… therefor,it is not their fault,but it does concern kurdish people and by their supporting(in past and now to be continue) they came to power … because sometimes I speak with my self Kurdish people should be live in pain…
    However, when I said about Kurdistan authorities,I do not believe those in kurdistan arose claim to change(I mean change movement) as well,because they are not any different from them and these now seems to be reformers! in past have immersed in conservative well-being! … this remind me walter benjamin’saying: revolution must be directed by a despair peoples.
    Enventually, now I am concern about destiny of Kurdistan if they leaders continue in power,and this our rich Kurdistan like many youths live in it, I have not a one of meter earth in it?
    But I think KRG is not a democratic,and democracy it is not an election only, and as I see it democracy is an culture and it takes so long to be created…

  5. Ari kader
    December 18, 2012 | 05:20

    Thank you Michael , you are a friend and you are loved ♥♥♥♥God,Ahuramazda,Allah
    ,Yahuda♡♡♡♡ with you

  6. Simone
    December 18, 2012 | 09:11

    THERE is your Kurdistan Statistics Agency:

    It’s the Kurdistan Regional Statistics Office (KRSO), a department of the KRG Ministry of Planning. It was established several years ago.

    Please consider doing your research more carefully. Thanks a lot.

  7. Michael Rubin
    December 18, 2012 | 11:46

    Thank you, Simone, but as the website you point to demonstrates, it does not come to close being a professional statistics agency. What is needed is a professional, apolitical agency that releases useful data on a weekly or monthly basis, not one whose approach is scatter shot and little more than a name. At least that’s what a number of Kurdish officials say.

  8. Ari Ali
    December 18, 2012 | 13:05

    Simone , what michael is talking about are statistics that fall outside KRSO such as :
    The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is led by Massoud Barzani who has got this power as an inheritance from his father, the Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani
    Nechirvan Barzani, KRG Prime Minister
    Masrour Barzani, chief of Parastn (Protection Agency of Kurdistan)
    Mansour Barzani, Gullan Chief of the Military Unit.
    Shekh Adham Barzani, KDP leadership council.
    Sidad Barzani, KDP leadership council
    Sirwan Barzani, KDP leadership council*.
    Delshad Barzani, KDP’s representative in Germany.
    Saiwan Barzani: Iraq’s ambassador in France.
    Hoshyar Zebari: Iraqi Foreign Minister, Massoud Barzani’s uncle.
    Babakar Zebari : The Iraqi’s Chief General, Barzani’s uncle.
    Dindar Zebari, Hoshyar Zebari’s Cousin and the deputy of KRG’s office for Foreign Relations.
    Bayan Sami Abdulrahman, the KRG’s representative in UK.
    Chnar Sa’d Abdulla, first she became Member of Parliament, then Minister, and now part of the KDP leadership and chief of the public organisations of the KDP.

    *In fact, seven members of the Barzani family are on the KDP leadership council.

    The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is led by Jalal Talabani the president of Iraq who also became more popular due to being son-in-law of Ibrahim Ahmed, the second man in Aylul revolution after Mullah Mustafa.
    Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Talabani’s wife, PUK politburo, chief of 1st PUK branch in Slemani. (No need to list her other positions).
    Qubad Jalal Talabani, KRG’s representative in US.
    Lahur Talabani, chief of Anti-terror forces.
    Bayiz Talabani, Finance Minister.
    Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, Hero’s sister, PUK’s representative in the UK.
    Bakr Fatah, Omer Fatah’s brother, Iraq’s ambassador in Brazil.
    Rebaz Kosrat Rasul, PUK’s leadership, chief of PUK’s public organisations.
    Mohammed Sabir, Jalal Talabani’s brother in law, is Iraqi Ambasador to China.
    Dr Kamal Jamal, Jalal Talabani’s brother in law, is the Iraqi irrigation minister.

    Ali Sindi Minister of Statistics has been in office for decades because he is connected . So we need statistics about the connected and the unconnected ins and outs … change is coming but the sooner the better .

    • Michael Rubin
      December 18, 2012 | 13:38

      Ari, Simone is right that I should have made reference to the website to which she pointed. And perhaps that Office can provide a base. Admittedly, it was my fault I did not: When I was working on the issue during my most recent trip to Kurdistan in October, it was a topic about which I asked several politicians and party members, none of whom knew of its existence. That said, I know Ali Sindi well–I had written his recommendation for his successful Yale scholarship. I value his friendship and his communications, even after Masud Barzani made it clear that I was persona non grata among KDP officers.

      The head of the Office can be political, but he or she needs to be professional, and for the Office to have value, it needs to: (a) issue statistics regularly, (b) publish relevant statistics such as–like I said in my article–unemployment, inflation, etc. Perhaps Ali Sindi can outline whether (a) he has such data, (b) how his ministry gathers such data, and (c) will make it public.

      • Ari Ali
        December 18, 2012 | 16:01

        Thanks Michael for your enduring interest in vital kurdish issues . The main problem in kurdistan is the authoritarian style of KDP/PUK both backed by their own militia which have assassinated endless of dissidents since 1991 which are well documented . So what you see in Kurdistan is a tribal mafia which is remote to anything civilised . Most kurdish officials , including Ali Sindi a failed doctor , have cemented their positions because of his links to Maceef via different routes with ultimate endpoint of an absolute allegiance/believe in the superiority of massoad Barzani family and tribe. I am unsure they know/care much about planning policies national statistics and modern governance. What they care about is to remain on the barzani payroll as long as possible . There we go and thanks again .

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