Prime Minister Masrour Barzani's Speech Marking Cabinet's First 100 Days in Office
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Citizens of the Kurdistan Region.
I am here today to talk to you about my government’s first 100 working days in office and our plans for the future.
In my inauguration speech in Parliament, I said we have a difficult task ahead of us - and that with God’s support and the trust of our citizens, we will overcome the challenges we face. I am pleased to announce that we believe we have passed an important stage. Our efforts are on the right track and we have made significant progress.
I spoke about my commitment to create a strong Kurdistan with a government that serves the people, not the other way around. That has been a guiding principle that has shaped everything we have done in government.
We will do whatever possible to serve the people of the Kurdistan Region. I know that you expect us to do more and do better - and we understand the urgency behind those expectations. Important projects need time and the right foundations, and with God’s support and your help, we are very hopeful that the Kurdistan Regional Government will deliver in the way you demand.
100 days is just the beginning, but in our first 100 days we have done a lot. We’ve made significant progress on issues that are crucial to this region – issues like improving the relationship with Baghdad, tackling corruption, restoring our public finances to health and making the government more efficient.
I can say with confidence that Kurdistan is stronger, more transparent and more secure today than it was when I spoke to you at my inauguration.
First of all, a government that serves the people needs to be transparent, efficient and modern.
Regarding the income of government bodies, one of the first decisions the cabinet made was to collect all income through the Ministry of Finance and Economy, to understand clearly our income and our spending. Based on this foundation, we have made plans to increase internal revenues and decrease expenses as necessary. This was done in a way that was mindful of the needs of the Ministry of Finance and Economy and departments.
We have been able to increase internal revenues and this year we are on track to increase internal revenues by 50%. We will continue to build on this progress by developing comprehensive tax reforms that will ensure that the right revenue is collected in order to fund public services for the long term.
We are ensuring that everyone pays their fair share.
Companies and individuals who were unlawfully exempted from paying taxes have seen those exemptions eliminated and the Council of Ministers has reversed any regulations or instructions that illegally exempt taxes.
We are also making government spending more efficient. We have introduced central spending control in order to reduce no-bid contracts that have wasted public money. We are also working to make sure that public procurement is in line with government priorities and value for money.
We have also started new transparency measures, particularly around oil and gas, in a way that allows our citizens to truly understand the region’s oil and gas revenues and internal income.
On corruption – we have created an environment that no long allows corruption to spread. I am personally very serious about this. I will not accept corruption from any individual or group.
Already, we’re enforcing bribery laws against those who have received bribes to process government work or those giving bribes. Many employees and officials connected to receiving bribes and a number of people who have given bribes have had their cases referred to the courts.
We have cleared hundreds of ghost employees from the public payroll and this process will continue. The money that was going to people who didn’t even work for the government is now funding vital public services. We want to assure the public that only those not entitled to these benefits will be affected. The others will not be.
There have been many ministerial committees to investigate corruption involving senior public servants – and there will be strong action against any corruption or illegal activity.
After 100 working days, I can say now that corruption has, to a large extent, been curtailed. We will enforce the law against the corrupt. There are attempts to undermine our efforts against corruption, but I assure citizens that our efforts will continue.
The first section of the government agenda, presented in parliament, was related to reform. I have formed a high-level ministerial committee to review existing legislation and see what additional reforms are needed. We want to ensure that only those entitled to benefits receive them – this will bring integrity to the payroll and give us more certainty over our spending. After a number of months and a realistic and meaningful assessment of the reform legislation, this legislation is now ready to return to parliament.
As well as increasing transparency, we are also making government services more efficient.
We are cutting red tape – ministries have started on four year plans to reform and reduce bureaucracy. They are putting more resources and time into supporting citizens directly and revisiting existing laws from the bottom up.
We have worked on a new single online portal for government services. Already, we have digitized some services and we will be launching others. The KRG's single, centralized data center is on track for completion in the first half of next year. This data center will host digital services to citizens and businesses, making it easier to access government services. You will be able to conduct a wide range of services online.
We are also connecting border crossings and airports through a single, digital network – helping us better to collect customs, to boost trade and to ensure quality control.
But providing better services is not just about digitization.
To take one example, it used to be the case that, in order to renew your passport, you needed to travel to a central office. If you live in cities like Erbil or Slemani that is less of a problem.
So, one of the first actions taken by the Ministry of Interior was to create new offices at a district level. The Ministry of Interior has already agreed with Baghdad to open four new centers and more will be opening soon. These centers will reduce the strain on the other offices – reducing waiting times and bringing a key service closer to the people who need it.
Also, things are also changing in the culture of the public sector. One of the first things we did as a government was to ensure public servants abide by their working hours. And this is just a first step in a broader transformation.
We are pleased to have heard positive feedback from citizens regarding reduced red tape and faster processing times for paperwork. This encourages us to increase services – making them quicker and better quality – because serving the public is our goal. Right now, a number of services like passport, citizen card, driving license and notarization have been significantly improved. Digitizing these services will make it easier and quicker for citizens.
Secondly, a government that serves the people also needs to build allies and secure its borders.
One of the main focuses of this government has been strengthening our relationship with Baghdad.
After the first Cabinet meeting, we visited Baghdad to reiterate our good will for an agreement that is fair and within the Iraqi constitution. Improving that relationship will have a real impact on people’s everyday lives here and across Iraq. Peace and stability in Iraq are in the interests of our region.
Our goal is to reach a comprehensive agreement with the federal government that is beneficial for all.
I’m pleased to say that progress in our discussions so far has been strong and the working group I established has delivered results.
In our negotiations so far, we have focused on four areas.
First, settling the formula for the division of revenue that determines the budget allocation.
Second, we want to reinforce Kurdistan’s rights to federal revenues and oil and gas in line with the constitution.
Third, we are working to resolve our territorial disputes.
Fourth, and finally, we aim to ensure our Peshmerga are included in Iraq's defense policy to secure their rights.
The government in Baghdad has been receptive to our concerns, they have listened and they have been open to making changes. For instance, this is the first time that the Kurdistan Regional Government has taken part in drafting the federal budget and we have made important progress with the Iraqi Ministry of Finance in ensuring the rights and financial dues of the Kurdistan Region in the 2020 budget.
The budget has been restored to Kurdistan, we’re exporting Kirkuk oil together and we’re bringing customs policies into line. And solving the question of the constitutional rights of the Kurdistan Region enables us to start work on public projects in the interests of the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi peoples.
We have made progress elsewhere with improved relations with Baghdad too. For instance, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior has delegated visa issuance to the KRG – making it easier for us to attract foreign investors and visitors. This can make Kurdistan a hub for anyone looking to invest in Iraq – benefitting us and benefitting the rest of the country.
This is what we can achieve by working together. We have also removed fees from visitors visiting the Kurdistan Region from other parts of Iraq. Now, only security checks are done and all assistance extended for those citizens to ensure that they can enjoy the safety and comfort in the Region.
As well as engaging with Baghdad, this government is also protecting its borders. When it comes to security, this government will never compromise on the safety of our people. I want to take this opportunity here to thank our brave Peshmerga, police forces and Asayish services for securing this stability in the Kurdistan Region – a stability that has earned international respect.
Our Peshmerga are heroes. I saw it when I witnessed them fighting on the front lines. This government has made a commitment to honor their heroism by ensuring that they can continue to protect our region and will do all it can to provide the best of services to the Peshmerga and the martyrs.
We have renewed agreements with key international partners for training and equipment of the Peshmerga forces. So within the first 100 days, and with the assistance of coalition partners, we have begun a process of organizing and reforming the different units of the Peshmerga. We have conducted this process closely with the Kurdistan Region Presidency, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Peshmerga.
Third, in order to serve our people, the government also needs to enable enterprise.
We are finalizing a new investment law to help attract much-needed foreign investment. And we are also creating an investment strategy so that the incentives we provide are focused on the investment that we need most – where projects do not meet those requirements, we will withdraw licenses. For example, agriculture is a key sector for us – but it has received just two percent of overall investment in the region. It is important that projects are implemented in line with the law and any party violating these will have their license withdrawn.
People want to investment in the Kurdistan Region, and that’s why we want to make it easier to attract foreign investors and encourage local investors.
We have issued investment licenses to a number of companies and investors already – with investments valued at $462m. We are confident others will also come. We also plan to introduce digital services and are considering a one-stop-shop to make the process more efficient.
We are also investing in infrastructure. Since the start of this government I have approved IQD 617 billion of funding for major infrastructure projects across the region. This funding will support the development of hundreds of projects. This month we approved funding for a number of additional projects. Roads. Bridges. Water pipelines. Government buildings. Affordable housing to allow families to live dignified lives. This funding will be incremental and based on the financial capacity of the Region.
Among those projects, it is worth mentioning three silos in Duhok, Erbil and Slemani were included because of importance this government attaches to water and food security.
We have also approved funding for the development of new hospitals and clinics and hundreds of low-cost affordable housing units across the Kurdistan Region. And since the start of the Cabinet, over IQD 33 billion has been approved for major road repairs.
Alongside reform, we have taken action to support growth.
For too long, our economy, our revenues and our exports have been too dominated by oil. We have also become heavily reliant on imports and ignored other sectors. That’s why one of our priorities is to diversify the economy and our income. We cannot accept relying on one source of income alone; we want to move from a region that uses goods to one that is a producer.
For example, we know that there is incredible potential in our agriculture sector. This was the breadbasket of Iraq and in a region reliant on food imports, there is a real opportunity.
But we also know that in the initial phase of development our local industry needs support.
And we have delivered it.
We are investing in infrastructure that will support the sector – from dams and silos to the roads needed to get products to market.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources agreed to provide much-needed support to farmers by agreeing to long-term instalments of debts from 9,000 farmers to relieve immediate pressure on farmers.
We are introducing plans to increase wheat production.
We have introduced targeted support in particular areas by restricting imports of certain goods, giving a real helping hand to the agricultural sector.
We also have given approval to more than 30 agricultural projects – with clear interest from international investors as well. In my meetings with visiting investors, I always emphasize investments in the region’s agriculture.
Finally, a government that serves the people builds for the future.
We are funding major projects that will transform the infrastructure that we rely on every day.
One area I know has been a major concern for people is electricity — it is an important issue for people and businesses, and that’s why we are doing everything we can to improve it.
Now we’re using more Kurdistani gas – that allows us to reduce our reliance on imported diesel fuel and it will save considerable money. In fact, we are already saving $1 billion a year.
We are making the system work better and we are making the system sustainable. We are now in the process of reviewing the distribution of electricity to ensure it is not wasted. This will deliver significant benefits for citizens, and that’s why it is important that companies and citizens agree not to waste electricity and over-use the public supply.
Schools. I know that the situation at the moment is tough. I have seen for myself classrooms that are small and overcrowded and teachers – dedicated teachers – exhausted after working three shifts a day.
That is why I have approved immediate funding to reduce the strain. But as well as repairing old buildings we have also implemented reforms – pausing tuition fee increases, bringing order to the process of opening new schools and ensuring they are operating properly. We are trialing new online systems to connect schools, teachers and students and provide more transparency.
These reforms are ensuring standards are kept high, reducing costs and paving the way for outside investors to support development.
Our future depends on our children’s education – and we cannot neglect it. We expect companies to play a bigger role in supporting the education sector by building schools across the region.
We are also ensuring that those who have made sacrifices for our people are recognized. I have approved funding to support martyrs’ families from the war against the so-called Islamic State. We will continue to support our brave Peshmerga, Asayish forces and the families of our martyrs and the wounded.
We are protecting the most vulnerable, with payments to those suffering disabilities. The government is now supporting more than 12,000 people through disability allowances – with the proper checks in place to ensure that support goes only to those entitled to it.
Though we have made a strong start in the first 100 working days, there is much more to be done. The government still isn’t as efficient as it needs to be to realize our vision. We have the capacity to achieve and produce more from our human and natural resources.
Our goal is to build a stronger Kurdistan, a more stable and prosperous Kurdistan. At peace with its neighbors. A reliable ally in a complex region. My ambition is for us, with God’s support, to realize that goal – that dream – as a people. And to realize it together.
In recent years our people have suffered – you have proven your courage and you have proven your willingness to endure hardship in the pursuit of a just cause.
But my government will not mistake that patience for a willingness to accept something less than you deserve. You deserve a government that is professional and efficient, and you deserve a government that serves you.
Dear citizens and political parties.
We have created an environment that allows for good coordination between the Kurdistan Region Presidency, Parliament, Judiciary and independent bodies of the Kurdistan Region. This will have a positive impact on the legislative and executive progress.
The Kurdistan Regional Government belongs to all citizens. It is not one individual’s or one party’s. That’s why we expect the political parties to support us in strengthening this government; to encourage us in success and identify our shortcomings.
The regional situation requires us all to stand united. No matter our differences, it is necessary for us to be united behind national interests. Rather than create obstacles for each other and unease for our citizens, let us spend our energy and efforts on the progress of our nation and the service of our citizens.
Finally, I wish to announce that a detailed report of achievements from all ministries and departments will be published for our citizens to understand the progress.
Thank you for your steadfastness. Thank you for your support for a more prosperous and stronger Kurdistan.