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iraq govt\\\'s new employment agency
MPs as career advisers?

Mustafa Habib
In a country like Iraq, where most careers come courtesy of the government, its not what you know, but who you know – or how much you\'re willing to pay. The Federal Public Service Council was supposed to…
29.08.2013  |  Baghdad
Iraqi parliament: Would you take career advice from these MPs?
Iraqi parliament: Would you take career advice from these MPs?

The Iraqi government is still one of the major employers in the country. Perhaps this is hardly surprising in an economy where most of the money comes from oil revenues and these are administered by the government. As a result, government jobs are widely sought after.

However, if they don\'t have some kind of connection to the employer already in the government job or money to bribe them with, ordinary people can find it difficult to get a position in the civil service, no matter how well qualified they are. And this applies to university graduates as well as the average unemployed, unqualified individual. Additionally government jobs, whether in the military or civilian service, are often sold to the highest bidder by brokers or by influential members of political parties.

The so-called Federal Public Service Council is supposed to solve this problem, at least partially. Article 104 of Iraq\'s Constitution says that: “A council named the Federal Public Service Council shall be established and shall regulate the affairs of the federal public service, including the appointment and promotion. A law shall regulate its formations and competencies.” It\'s aim is to raise the level of public office and provide equal opportunities.

Of course, the Constitution was ratified in 2005. Yet, like many other aspects of government that it specifies, the Federal Public Service Council doesn\'t yet exist. In 2009, after much controversy about corruption within government institutions regarding how people got jobs there as well as pressure from civil society organisations and the general public, the Iraqi Parliament did manage to pass a draft bill on the formation of the Public Service Council.

Should the Federal Public Service Council ever become a reality, it would have several important tasks. Firstly, government institutions and ministries would have to inform the Council of their employee needs. The Council would then announce job opportunities and select candidates, who would be sent on to the employers involved for a final decision. The Council should be making employment decisions based on “professional standards, efficiency and training”, the draft law on it says.

Various parts of the draft law on the Council talk about who is in charge of the Council and it\'s financial and administrative independence, and how it should be composed. The Federal Public Service Council should have a president and a vice president as well as seven full time members. it says. The law also specifically stipulates that the members should have a variety of university degrees, including two law degrees and two economics degrees, among others. But the wrangling over who should be on this Council and what sort of representation various political parties may have has been a major obstacle in the formation of the Council.

“The Cabinet delayed giving any names of prospective Council members for a long time,” says Jawad al-Jibouri, an MP affiliated with the mainly Shiite Muslim Sadrist movement; the movement is allied with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but in recent months, has often been critical of him. “They did this because the list would never have satisfied those politicians and parties who are trying to keep all the government jobs for themselves, their members and allies.”

But just a few days ago, a list of potential Council members was sent to Parliament. However as soon as it was sighted by MPs, and reviewed by the various different political blocs, the objections began. Originally the Council members were supposed to be independent and well qualified civilians. But it seems that politicians believe the Council members should come from among their own number.

One source from inside Parliament, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted that the prospective Council was made up of members of major political parties and that they had been allotted seats using the unofficial quota system that is so often used in Iraqi politics to keep the peace and to maintain a balance between all the different, and often competing and conflicted, ethnic and religious factions. The candidates included five Shiite Muslims affiliated with al-Maliki\'s ruling coalition, two Iraqi Kurdish and two Sunni Muslims.

After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the quota system was used to put together an interim government. The religious and ethnic background of would-be politicians in the interim leadership was based on demographics. For instance, the last figures suggest that the majority of the country is Shiite Muslim – so Shiite Muslim politicians took up most of the chairs at that particular table. Although the quota system was never based in law, it has continued to be used in Iraqi politics today.

At a meeting of various leading members of the parliamentary blocs, held to discuss the prospective Council members, it was noted that the majority were allied to al-Maliki and also that the Council would be headed by someone from al-Maliki\'s party while the deputy would be an Iraqi Kurdish politician from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. Meanwhile a senior representative of the opposition Iraqiya bloc, Salman al-Jumaili, apparently insisted that someone from his bloc occupy the top of the council. Which held things up even more.

As critics have already argued, the Federal Public Service Council is supposed to be independent and not based on any quota system. The fact that its membership is, indicates that Iraq\'s current political parties and blocs, which are also based on a quota system, will have undue influence on the Council. Similar situations have occurred at a number of allegedly independent bodies, such as the Independent High Electoral Council and the Iraqi Central Bank and the quota principle has often meant that a supposedly independent institution is hamstrung.

It should be interesting to see if the Council can be formed in this way. Whether they\'re right or not, many ordinary Iraqis perceive such an organisation to be incredibly important and there may be public pressure on this issue. The number of unemployed in Iraq is huge and rising – many see government employment as their only possibility for a job. Those individuals are doubtless holding out high hopes for the Federal Public Service Council.

“The Council could also prevent Iraq\'s brain drain, which has seen efficient, qualified Iraqis leave the country because they just cant get a job here,” Kurdish MP Mohsen al-Sadoun, a member of the parliamentary legal committee, told NIQASH.

It is important to manage the process of recruitment carefully and in a way that doesn\'t reflect political, ethnic or sectarian conflicts in the country, says Bassem Jamil Anton, a local economist. The focus should be on integrity and experience. If this could be achieved, Anton says, it would reflect positively on the national economy.