Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

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Saturday, August 27, 2011



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

There’s a good news coming from Iraq, which concerns directing the compass of governance along a decentralized trajectory. Iraq was over-centralized for too long a time since the era yet of the caliphate and onwards to the post-Ba’th Party regime, and so that centralization pattern continues as a legacy of antiquated processes and structures.

Honestly, as an analyst of long standing, I am of the opinion that a decentralization for Iraq at this particular juncture is a premature action. However, there is no stopping the change agents there that it is best to define the contours of the roadmap towards decentralization. I would hasten to add that such a roadmap must be accompanied by urban/regional planning to indicate the spatial galvanizations of the roadmap into doable city planning.

Below is a summary report about the optimistic outlook for decentralization in the newly democratized state.

[Philippines, 17 August 2011]


Key representatives of the Iraqi government including Mr. Istebraq al-Shauk, Senior Deputy Minister for Construction and Housing, Mr. Kamil Chadirchi, Deputy Minister for Administrative Affairs, and Mr. Ayad al Safy, Deputy Minister for Technical Affairs, were in Amman recently to attend a high-level conference to determine the future of Iraqi governance.

"This conference represents the extent of cooperation, and of joint and serious action between the Iraqi Government and United Nations Agencies to concentrate the concept of decentralized government in Iraq," said Deputy Minister Mr. al-Shauk in his opening address.

The conference 8-10 May, organized by the UN-HABITAT Iraq office in Amman, brought together eminent speakers from the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and United Nations agencies together with experienced practitioners in the field of local governance, to set out a roadmap that will enable Iraq to move towards a system of effective decentralized local government.

All 18 provinces, or governorates, were represented at the Iraq conference 8-10 May in Amman Jordan by members of the Iraqi Local Government Association.

"The objective of this conference is to provide an opportunity for Iraq Local Government Association representatives to learn, experience and benefit from the process of decentralization, local government building and service delivery practised in several neighbouring and selected countries," said Suman Kumar Karna, Local Governance and Decentralization Specialist with the UN-HABITAT Iraq Programme in Amman. "The conference will provide a focused practical perspective on how decentralization in urban areas promotes local government as an effective tool for service delivery."

The experience of decentralised governance in Iraq has been minimal. After adopting a federal system in 2003, the Republic of Iraq's Constitution of 2005 furthered the reform process by establishing a model of decentralized political and administrative government through devolution of power to eighteen provinces (governorates).

But many challenges remain, in particular, the devolution of authority for the delivery of services and an inter-governmental policy on the transfer of revenues to local governments from oil and other resources.

Learning from other countries

One of the speakers, Ehtisham Ahmad from the London School of Economics, said that while there was need for political decisions to made on how oil revenues are shared, it is also vital for Iraq's local governments to have their own revenue raising options.

"It is important that local governments have own source revenues with control over rates as this ensures efficient use of transfers and spending and makes local governments fully accountable," said Dr. Ahmad.

A common theme from the speakers was that Iraq must be patient as it moves from a very centralized regime to decentralized local governance. "The challenge is not to design the programme but to breach the gap between theory and practice," said Shabbir Cheema, Director at the East-West Centre in Honolulu. "With decentralization you need to be patient. Indonesia went through 25 years of failure before it got to where it is today."

Anwar Shah of the World Bank highlighted the risks if Iraq's provinces are empowered too greatly and said China could give guidelines and practical pointers to Iraq in developing its decentralized system of government. "China has made remarkable progress on poverty reduction and has 89% of its public employees at the local level," said Dr. Shah. "Past dependencies make these changes difficult in Iraq but we owe it to the millions of citizens to keep on trying."

Other speakers provided case studies from Europe (Ed Cornies of UNDP), from India (Professor Dinesh Mehta and Professor Om Prakash) and from Indonesia (Professor Tommy Firman) to explain how local governance can be made effective for urban communities. While all of these case studies are particular to the countries concerned, they can provide useful indicators for Iraq in particular where decentralization initiatives were not successful, said Professor Om Prakash.

The discussions and debate from the conference will be published in the form of a toolkit, which will serve as a guiding tool to Iraqi representatives in the field. In addition, later this year there will be two days of field tours in Turkey where participants from Iraq will have the opportunity to see the results of the decentralization process on the ground. The tour to the region outside Istanbul will provide an insight into the challenges faced in the decentralization process and the means by which solutions are achieved in the field.

"The devil is in the detail and we now need to look at getting the details right on the functional and territorial assignments of responsibilities for the different services in Iraq, " said Fiona McCluney, UN-HABITAT's Programme Manager for Iraq, in her closing remarks. "If Iraq is to move from being solely dependent on oil as the main source of revenue, how cities function and are being managed, is going to be a key issue and considering this in the context of where functional responsibilities lie, is the major theme we need to work on."

For more information, pls. contact

Dr. Suman Kumar Karna
Local Governance and Decentralization Specialist
UN-HABITAT Iraq Programme
Amman, JORDAN, Email –


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