Falah Mustafa Bakir, Kurdistan’s foreign minister, tackled head-on the regional government’s financial struggles at a briefing in London today (16 April), while noting successes in the fight against ISIS.
The Iraqi constitution states that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is entitled to a 17% share of the national budget, although Baghdad withheld this last year due to a dispute over oil exports, leaving the KRG a staggering $13billion out of pocket while oil prices continued to tumble.
Mr Bakir said that since then a payment of $200million had been made in January this year, and $490million in February, though the Erbil-based KRG is not yet able to pay civil servants’ salaries – so reforms and austerity have shot to the top of the agenda.
He added that a former minister for finance from neighbouring Lebanon had been appointed to lead a team of budget reformers, and that progress was being made.
“This is to make sure it’s [the budget] is being spent properly – making sure that all those who were paid are working for the government,” he said.
Mr Bakir highlighted how, previously, if 10 parliamentarians proposed a Bill of new initiatives, it could proceed without any consideration of whether the KRG – which produces and exports its own oil, including an unpaid proportion to Baghdad – had the funds to finance it or not.
He added that while the conflict with ISIS had resulted in 95% of the land seized by the terrorist group retaken, and 8,500 elite ISIS combatants killed, the region had also seen a 28% population increase due to internal displacement and refugees, with poverty rising from 3.1% to 8.5%.
“We have seen a lot of political maturity,” Mr Bakir said.
He was speaking at a round table briefing organised by Ibrahim Dogus of the Centre for Kurdish Progress, and moderated by Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute.
The UK office of the KRG will see a new representative take up their post next month, to replace predecessor Bayan Sami Rahman, who has since moved to Washington as the representative to the USA.