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Unity on economy the key

Mayada Daood
Despite the many differences among competing political parties, blocs, movements and entities in the forthcoming elections over Iraq’s future, they all share similar solutions for the economy. Economic…
3.03.2010  |  Baghdad

Posters of candidates are full of promises for better living standards, abundant electricity and water, proper housing, employment opportunities for all Iraqis, new and thriving investment.

“None of these promises will come true if not supported and given the necessary care. Some promises need action and pro-active policies to become realities,” said Ikram Abdul-Aziz, an economist.

From a purely economic point of view, it is important that the government takes measures to diversify the structure of the Iraqi economy. The benefits of oil income must be used to improve the performance of other sectors, mainly agriculture and industry, to decrease unemployment. Abdul-Aziz sees this as particularly important because Iraq has become a net importer of goods.

In the various electoral lists there are a number of economic experts such as Dr. Kamal al-Basri, a candidate for the State of Law Coalition led by the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Basri said that his coalition “will seek to implement an economic programme designed to serve the welfare of all Iraqis.” The programme, he says, is based on the principle of respect for the law.

“It is impossible to pass economic laws or any other laws if the government is unable to implement them.”

According to al-Basri, the new government must address three priorities urgently. Firstly, living standards must be improved through investment in education, encouraging children to attend schools (especially elementary schools) with financial incentives, development of healthcare and the improvement of housing standards, as well as solving the unemployment problem.

Agriculture problems must be addressed, with water scarcity and salinity the key issues.

Finally, he argues, public-private funding partnerships are needed to address cash shortfalls in investment projects. These partnerships should focus on the reconstruction of infrastructure, including roads, hospitals and housing and the rehabilitation of industrial capacity.

As for the Iraqi National Coalition, headed by Ammar al-Hakim, the well-being of Iraqis was his top priority.

“Wealth held by the government will be given to the private sector to help promote and attract foreign direct investment and encourage qualified Iraqis living abroad to return to the country,” promised Muna Zalzala, one of the list’s candidates.

A microcredit project will be launched to give loans to companies and individuals in order to increase the flow of money to the population themselves, as opposed to the government, thereby improving the country’s standard of living.

“The government should not do all the work. Citizens should be empowered and provided with capital to improve the conditions of the middle class who in turn can carry its responsibilities towards the country.

“This should be done gradually and when the necessary laws are in place, most important are the oil and gas law, the oil company law and the privatisation of government companies’ law – all of which will lead to improvement in the role of the private sector and enable it to carry its responsibilities in partnership with the public sector,” according to Zalzala.

“The National Coalition has adopted an economic programme based on the Iraqi constitution stipulating that oil is the property of the people. An oil council will be formed and each citizen will hold a non-transferrable share. The price of shares shall be the market price and shall depend on investment in this sector,” she continued.

The Iraqi List, headed by former Prime Minister Allawi, shares many economic goals with the National Coalition. In their programme, they stress the importance of improving the well-being of the people. They stand against government monopoly over the economy and in favour of a pilot role for the private sector.

Among other priorities stand the passing of the oil and gas law and the formation of a national oil company. Their programme also stipulates the right of Iraqi citizens to enjoy higher living standards, achieved through investment in increasing oil, agricultural and industrial production, as well as promoting religious and cultural tourism to the country. They also seek to encourage investment and build the role of national and international private businesses in the economy.

On fiscal and monetary issues, the Iraqi List stands for a clear and well-planned policy to maintain stability of the Iraqi Dinar exchange rate, combat inflation and support the central bank. They hope to enhance the role of the central bank to make it more responsive to the needs of the private and public sectors, banks and local financial institutions.

Security is the focus of the political programme of the Iraq Unity Coalition, headed by Jawad al-Boulani, the Interior Minister.

Ubayd al-Jarrah, who will run for election on the coalition’s list, said that the bloc believes that the economy is the backbone of the state. The economy cannot evolve without investments and investments cannot be attracted without the proper security conditions.

“Iraq needs to attract capital and we need the qualified Iraqis who have left the country to return. Among them are people with excellent ideas that can help Iraq develop its economy. There is currently a gap that must be bridged in order to achieve real economic progress,” he said, stressing that security must come first.

The Kurdistan Alliance, headed by Iraq’s president Jalal al-Talabani, has also reiterated similar concerns. They brought out the same slogans relating to the well-being of Iraqi citizens and building-up society, sustainable economic development and attracting agricultural and tourism investment, in order not to allow the Iraqi economy to be fully dependent on hydrocarbons, which they also look to improve and develop.

According to the economic programme of the alliance, it is important to support and promote the free market, limiting the government’s role, with their direct involvement in people’s lives only when their well-being is compromised. They also stipulate that a bigger role should be given to the private sector to benefit from its capital investment, and support the passage of the gas and oil law.

Every list talks about the well-being of the Iraqis as their main priority. The mechanisms they plan to use to bring this about differ. The problems are not so much in the content of any party programme, but in the implementation, according to Majid al-Sour.

“It’s about achieving these visions and finding the appropriate mechanisms to do so,” he says, continuing, “I hope all blocs have strong faith in their election programmes and that they can achieve what they want in order to improve people’s conditions and raise their standards of living.”

However, with different visions for implementation between the parties making up the blocs and even among individuals themselves, there are contradictory ideas, meaning no single, united, clear idea for the future exists for Iraqis. Good implementation of the policies will be dependent on unifying those voices.