On the back of ‘Operation Mother of Two Springs’ in Ninawa province in May 2008 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki created a reconstruction commission and allocated 120 billion Iraqi dinars (approximately US $100 million) for the implementation of urgent projects to combat unemployment and improve local services. But, sharp conflict quickly arose between the commission and the local government which felt marginalized by the new body.
Following its creation, the commission has launched a number of reconstruction projects in the province and assigned private sector contractors to implement them. It has also employed 16,000 people, giving them short term contracts.
However, in his farewell address following the recent provincial elections, Duraid Kashmula, Ninawa’s governor explicitly criticized the commission accusing them of incompetence.
“Many of those who were employed are already government employees or students who are still studying. The reason for this duplication is that the commission did not examine employment applications, it has ignored us and did not involve us in its work,” he complained. Kashmula warned council departments against accepting the appointment of employees without the prior permission of the provincial council.
Others who oppose the commission, such as Zuhair al-Araji, Mosul’s district commissioner, say the project is "a waste of public funds." Al-Araji, a popular figure in the city, told Niqash that “contrary to the aims of its creation, the commission has not yet provided people with any service and its projects have become a new burden on the people. Most of these projects started months ago but have not yet been completed despite the elapse of the completion time agreed upon with contractors,” he said.
In his continued attack on the commission, al-Araji said that: "No measures were taken against contractors who violated the terms of their contracts related to quality or completion date. The commission could easily take the project away from the contractor and assign a new one to fulfill the contracted obligations while holding the contractor who violated the terms responsible for any financial losses,” he added.
Al-Araji has threatened to resign if the projects implemented by the commission are not placed under more scrutiny saying that the people of Mosul are fed up with different excuses put forth for the failure to complete key projects and implement important services. “The lack of raw materials, the security situation and other justifications are being used as reasons for delay, but these reasons are no longer accepted by the people of Mosul,” he said.
In response to these criticisms a commission official, speaking to Niqash on condition of anonymity, defended the commission’s work and said it had faced unjustifiable opposition from the local council.
“Kashmula, the former governor hindered the work of the commission and refused to sign employment contracts that we sent him. He threatened to harshly punish the managers of provincial government departments if they accepted new employees. Competition over posts and powers dominated the council’s relations with the commission and we are still facing challenges in our work despite the absence of the old governor,” said the official.
According to the official, negligence and the lack of accountability and follow-up is the responsibility of the provincial council and not the commission. “The commission fulfilled all its obligations – our task ends when we finalize contracts with companies and contractors. It is the job of the provincial council to supervise the work progress,” he said.
Moreover, the official pointed to the various successes of the commission, explaining that the number of projects stands at more than 90, covering all service-related areas including the redevelopment and roofing of Najafi street, the most important street in Mosul city and home to one of its oldest markets. It also approved the building of two water springs in the city center, the installation of solar energy operated lamps on a number of major streets, the construction of shelters for the elderly and orphans and other service related projects providing people with water and developing sanitation, communications and agriculture.
Ahmad Fathi, a lawyer who is well informed with the work of the commission said that it has achieved “amazing” results despite the problems. Fathi said that Ninawa’s reconstruction budget for 2007 was 428 billion Iraqi dinars (approximately US $356 million) but that the council had not implemented any projects with this money blaming poor security conditions. The commission, on the other hand, got things moving said Fathi, pointing to the construction of the first new water spring in Mosul since thirty years.
Still, local contractors say that the competition between the commission and the local council has delayed the implementation of important projects. “Some projects were badly completed,” because of the conflict said Fouad Abdul-Jalil, a private sector civil engineer.
The central government is aware of the tensions between the commission and the council and formed a second commission to investigate the issue. However, following an explosion during the early stages of the investigation, the committee returned to Baghdad, leaving relations tense and the situation unresolved.