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open sewers, unpaved roads
baghdad boasts 700 unfinished reconstruction projects

Aysar Jabar
Local authorities admit there are hundreds of unfinished construction projects in Baghdad. And nobody knows who to blame. The contractors say politicians are blackmailing them. The politicians say contractors are…
27.02.2014  |  Baghdad

In order to cross their street, Qusay and his three children need to use the stepping stones they have arranged specifically for the purpose. The street they live on in the Shaab neighbourhood, in Baghdad\'s north east, is full of rancid water and muddy sand – a drainage project was started here three years ago but remains incomplete.

“It seems that it will be finished,” Qusay, 34, complains. “Drilling here started three years ago but Baghdad’s council hasn’t made any serious effort to complete this project. Every official accuses the other of delaying the project, nobody will take responsibility and the state of the street is having a really bad effect on the area – especially during winter.”

Ask the councilmen in Baghdad and they will say that it is the fault of the previous council, which they accuse of not having a clear strategy or enough money to complete many of the local projects.

The head of Baghdad’s current provincial council, Riyadh al-Adhadh, told NIQASH that there were an estimated 700 incomplete projects, most of them in service or health care related areas, most of them supposed to be completed in either 2013 or 2014.

The council was well aware of this, al-Adhadh said, and in the next few weeks they were planning to blacklist around 34 contractors who hadn’t finished their work.

“When the names of these companies are announced, they will not be able to continue their work and their projects will be taken away from them,” al-Adhadh explained. “They will not be able to get any new contracts in the future and any person who deals with them will be held responsible. And,” he adds, “this has nothing to do with upcoming elections either.”

The contractors involved would be paid for what work they had done – unless of course, the amount of work done was negligible.

Additionally the local authorities said that it was important to remember that not all the projects undertaken in Baghdad were their responsibility – some were the responsibility of the federal government and various ministries within it. Some have suggested that if the new version of Law 21, also known as the Provincial Powers Law, is passed, this may help – as it would mean that it becomes far more clear who is responsible for what.

“The projects that are delayed are mostly service-related,” Hakim Abdul Zahra, director of media relations at Baghdad’s provincial council, told NIQASH. “Things like water supply, drainage and street paving. These projects are mostly managed by special committees in Baghdad’s municipalities. The reasons the projects are delayed is due to lack of money, other random buildings and the security conditions in the capital.”

For example, Abdul Zahra continued, some service-related project might be about to begin and it has all been drawn up on city maps. Then when the contractor is about to start work he goes to the area and discovers that there are illegally built homes or other buildings there. Removing these houses requires political consensus and authority and the contractor and even the municipal authorities may not have enough power to remove the houses – especially if families are living in them.

The head of the Services and Construction Committee in Baghdad’s Parliament, Fayan Dakheel Saeed, agrees that Baghdad has some big problems in this area and that it is having a negative impact on the Iraqi capital.

One of the major reasons for the delay is the lack of, or style of, supervision, Dakheel Saeed says. Some of the projects are not supervised at all by the department that gave them the contract. In others there is nobody supervising the projects – such an engineer – who understands it well enough to see when things are going wrong. “Many of the projects have failed or stalled because of poor planning and lack of supervision,” she confirms.

Meanwhile Karim, one of the contractors working in Baghdad, who did not want to give his full name because of business sensitivities, blames corruption on all sides for the problem. Firstly, he says, often the official supervisors blackmail the contractors who are doing the work.

“If we don’t do what they say, they make us suffer – with unexpected inspections and irrelevant excuses that have nothing to do with the nature of the work we are doing,” Karim explains.

Secondly, he says, a lot of the contractors working on jobs in Baghdad are not qualified for the jobs they take on. And then, he adds, “some of them also deliberately delay the projects in order to get more money out of the authorities than had been agreed upon. That’s another reason for all the delays.”

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