Iraq's Governorate Councils: no progress after five months in service

Iraq's Governorate Councils: no progress after five months in service

Shafaq News/ Five months after their revival following a decade-long hiatus, Iraq's governorate councils continue to grapple with challenges that threaten to stall their progress, raising concerns among citizens who had hoped for improved services with the return of these local governing bodies.

Elected in December 2023, the councils serve as legislative and oversight bodies in each governorate. They are tasked with enacting local laws and managing local affairs in accordance with the principles of decentralization. However, council members face many hurdles, including a lack of resources, interference from the federal government, and confusion regarding the extent of their own power. Governorate council was essentially dormant for ten years," explained Yahya al-Khazali, a member of the Baghdad Council.

"We found everything in disarray – no priorities set, no building allocated, and no offices equipped. Council members are scrambling to find even a spare room within the building to convene meetings or receive visitors."

Al-Khazali criticized the former administration for "failing" to provide the council with a proper workspace, hindering their ability to function effectively.

"The lack of basic infrastructure provided by the previous administration is a major reason for the current disarray among the members," he said.

On the other hand, Haider al-Jubbouri, who chairs the council's investment committee, was concerned about another major issue.

"In Baghdad, there's a constant overlap in responsibilities between the governorate, the council, and the government," he said.

"The Prime Minister's office takes charge of projects like building roads, bridges, and hospitals – projects that fall under the purview of the governorate's council. This overlap extends to the Baghdad municipality as well. Even though it receives its budget from the governorate, there's a lack of cooperation."

Despite their willingness to work, al-Khazali expressed frustration over limitations on the council's authority. "We are ready to fulfill our duties," he said, "but we face constant interference and restrictions on our powers."

This issue of power dynamics prompted Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to seek clarification from the Federal Supreme Court on a specific constitutional clause concerning the authorities vested in local governments. The court's interpretation, delivered in April 2024, clarified that Article 115 of the Iraqi Constitution grants decision-making power to regional and local governments over any matters not explicitly reserved for the federal authorities. In cases of conflict, the court ruled that the laws of the regional or provincial governments would hold precedence.

Challenges beyond authority

"Iraq operates under a federal system that decentralizes power," explained Bassem al-Gharibawi, a member of the Iraqi parliament. "The constitution clearly outlines the authorities of the federal government, local governments, and the shared powers between them."

Al-Gharibawi, in an interview with Shafaq News Agency, emphasized the need for "capacity building" for council members.

"Many lack proper training and understanding of the legal framework governing their roles," he said. "They need to be equipped with the knowledge to handle inter-department interactions effectively, and committee assignments should be based on expertise."

"The 2024 budget has yet to be approved, leaving the councils without the necessary funds to deliver the services citizens expect," al-Gharibawi added.

"These services range from healthcare and education to sanitation and infrastructure – all of which require proper funding to function."

The lawmaker noted "widespread problems with promotions, certifications, and transfers."

"The federal government needs to address these issues to ensure smooth functioning at the provincial level. Without the necessary resources and capabilities, it's impossible to assess the performance of the councils objectively."

Al-Gharibawi cited an incident where the Wasit Governorate Council attempted to hold a director-general accountable for alleged administrative shortcomings.

"The council voted to dismiss the Director of Education," he explained. "However, they were met with a correspondence from the cabinet's secretariat explicitly stating that the council lacks the authority to hold directors-general accountable, especially those receiving salaries from the federal government."

This incident, according to al-Gharibawi, exemplifies the federal government's attempts to undermine the governorate councils' authority.

"It's crucial to uphold the legal mandate of the provincial councils and prevent any infringement on their powers as stipulated by the decentralization system," al-Gharibawi continued. "Without a strong and empowered provincial council structure, decentralization efforts in Iraq will falter."

"The Ministry of Education, for example, made the same move after an attempt by the Wasit Council to remove their Director of Education. The Ministry issued a directive effectively restricting the councils' ability to oversee education departments in their governorates."

No time to waste

Political analyst Imad Masafer believed that the outlook still offers signs of hope despite the slow start. "The councils previously underperformed, leading to public dissatisfaction," he admitted. "However, current conditions are more favorable with improved political stability, a growing interest from international companies in investing in Iraq, and a more secure environment. These factors can contribute to the success of the governorate councils."

Masafer, speaking to Shafaq News Agency, warned against rushing the results. "The limited timeframe of only five months since their revival makes achieving significant changes, particularly in infrastructure projects, quite challenging," he said.

"Citizens might not see substantial improvements in the near future. But they might notice some progress in the upcoming months if the councils take the right steps and receive direct support from the federal government.

"The three-year budget presents a significant opportunity for those councils to deliver a higher standard of service to the Iraqi people," he concluded.

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