The Iraq Energy Institute (IEI) has published an interview with Dr Ahmed Tabaqchali, CIO of Asia Frontier Capital (AFC) Iraq Fund; it is re-published with permission by Iraq Business News:

In the latest instalment in our series on sustainable job creation in Iraq, we spoke to Ahmed Tabaqchali, visiting fellow at the American University of Sulaimani’s Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS). Mr. Tabaqchali is also CIO of Asia Frontier Capital’s Iraq fund and Board Member of the Credit Bank of Iraq. Additionally, he has decades of experience in finance, having also worked with the National Bank of Kuwait’s investment arm.

In our last interview, we spoke with World Economic Forum contributor and distinguished economic historian Ewout Frankema, who discussed the role of the state in job creation.

This month we take a different tack and hear Mr.Tabachali’s views on the role of finance and markets, Iraq’s early efforts mobilizing financial technology (FINTECH) for the unbanked and kickstarting small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) growth.

AT: In terms of strategy, everything the new government will have to do has to go through parliament, including accessing foreign loans and reforming the public sector. When it comes to Iraq it is not a question of how strong the institutions are or how competent individuals are, it is a question of passing this through parliament with all of its political fragmentation, between the different pollical parties and within each party between its leadership and members, all of which makes reaching a consensus to embark on real, and thus difficult, reforms very hard. However, the scale of the crisis, brought by COVID-19 both socially and economically, might act as a catalyst for real change.

What is the current risk with having so much of the hiring in the public sector and what might be done to minimise this problem?

AT: Some things have to be done now that are comparatively easy and have been done in the past. Ad hoc measures such as freezing new hiring, cutting staff through attrition, putting a cap on benefits and letting this cascade through every department. This worked last time to a limited extent. But these changes are small scale, easily reversible and they do not solve the wider problem.

One problem is that you cannot have every ministry manage its own human resource processes, there is a need to have a central human resource structure. One course of action could be to separate benefits from salaries and link them to performance. This may sound horrendously complicated but on the public sector side, there is a little alternative. I don’t subscribe to the idea that this is a crisis that will pass, it is a multi-year crisis, a lot of oil demand will come back, but I cannot see a recovery anywhere near the pre-COVID situation.

Iraq is now not only battling a difficult internal situation but a weakened global economy. We are not just talking about a major disaster in one sector only. Consider such effects on hospitality and tourism; that will affect entire countries dependent on tourism, and then consider the knock-on effect on other sectors: what does that do to worldwide aggregate demand? What does that mean to Iraq? It means that oil prices will recover but they won’t be anything sustainably higher than $50 or $55. This points to the need for a complete change in mentality within the Iraqi governing elite and indeed, society at large.

Within Iraq, the government has very limited space to manoeuvre. If you look at Central Bank data on bank lending to the government and on T-Bill issuance, we survived in 2014-2017 through using reserves, via indirect monetary financing, and government bank lending. But while some of that has been paid off, CBI data as the end of November 2019 show that total domestic debt has increased to the prior crisis’ peak. So, I cannot see that being repeated, not in the same way as then. This time, I struggle to see the state banks’ lending beyond a few billion. The reserves are there but not un-limited and then there are conditionality constraints on any upcoming IMF loans. So, there will be no waiting out this crisis, there has to be decisive reform.

What danger is there to the SME sector, in terms of constrained available credit from banks, given this lending is important for start-ups?

AT: For the private sector banks, if you look at the end of 2018’s data, there is something like a $9 bn deposit base, 70% of which is in current accounts, so they can’t lend more than one-third of this, maximum. So, you can’t look to the private sector for state loans. That leaves the state banks, and they are so undercapitalized, burdened by un-resolved legacies of the prior regime, they function by a miracle or by pushing the accounting rules’ envelope. For example, you have an asset that is no longer a creditworthy asset, but you leave it on the books without making realistic downward adjustments to its value and without taking sufficient provisions. So that room for manoeuvre is very limited. Iraq has the foreign deposits at the Ministry of Finance, there is about $6bn there so there are some available funds here and there to meet immediate needs, but how far will you go with that? The need for the state to access domestic debt will eventually place restrictions on available funds for the SME sector.

Iraq is sliding towards a danger zone, a crunch point with foreign reserves where there is a risk of currency devaluation.

AT: Yes. And one problem here is that the last government, to appease the October demonstrations, hired additional employees and lowered the retirement age, adding at least another $6bn to the salary and pensions outlay which is now baked into the current budget. So, the $44bn in salaries and pensions in 2019, is more like $50bn for 2020. Similarly, the $73 bn spent on current expenditures, which also includes transfers to SOE’s, social security and subsidies for fuel and energy, is now more like $80 bn in current expenditures. How much can you cut from that without real restructuring?

So Iraq is facing an emergency situation to mobilise the private sector and there is a risk state banks may have limited room for lending to SMEs. One thing Iraq can do perhaps is maximise export finance and partnerships with foreign banks for SME lending, such as the recent scheme with Commerzbank. And of course, the Iraqi government has its own fund for this, the One Trillion Dinars initiative.

AT: There is no doubt that these initiatives are vital for new business ventures. The issue is structural impediments that are limiting these schemes. Access to finance is very crucial for start-ups to work, but in order for these organizations to operate you need to remove the stifling regulatory environment. The arbitrary nature of taxes, the expenses involved in just setting up and the many bureaucratic steps required to get started. So at the moment many of these start-ups are informal. The only way for these schemes to work is for them to start in the informal sector.

But they can’t make the transition to formality because the process to attain that status is so complicated and expensive, to start and to maintain. We always talk of mobilizing the private sector, but we are throttling it on a daily basis. Look at the UAE for example, they have the Free Zones, a very low time required for company registration, but with Iraq it is a stifling number of procedures.

The solution as far as the Iraqi government are concerned sadly seems to be another level of bureaucracy. In order to mobilise more start-ups, the government following the October demonstrations allowed for 18-35-year-olds to have fast-track separate set of regulations for start-ups in certain industries. So, the same bureaucracy will handle two parallel categories. You open up the door for even more corruption with more bureaucracy.

Every country, of course, has bureaucracy. But we have absurd requirements on top of the usual. Even just very small things, like paying a bill, can be a nightmare. And this is the legacy of formal socialism.

You are saying that in Iraq, socialism is not simply a term to be used as a political label, it is a word that is formally used in laws that are still on the books from decades ago.

AT: That’s right. So what Iraq needs is a change in the political economy. Look at the informal sector -it is mostly in retail, such as hawking goods, and in hospitality such as restaurants, and not in productive sectors. It’s informal because it is so expensive to start up formally. Change the regulations so it is more like the UAE, give them a year’s amnesty before you implement a much easier, formal registration process. These businesses hide because the only way they can operate is by bribing various officials. An amnesty would free them from harassments and un-necessary expenses during the transition to sensible regulations. The government needs to do something that is drastic, and very different from the past, to mobilise the private sector.

You can’t have a top-heavy, authoritarian socialist bureaucracy creating jobs or opening up the private sector. During the Kuwait conference, Iraq’s National Investment Commission came up with the One-Stop-Shop initiative – more bureaucracy on top of the bureaucracy. Why not follow the Kurdish Region of Iraq’s approach? Just get a visa on arrival for certain nationalities. That is the direction we need to be going in.

There has been a growing relationship between telecoms and banks in Iraq to provide services such as mobile wallets. Some of it is Iraqi initiative, some of it is fostered by development agencies. Perhaps one danger now is that if public sector payments are digitized, the salaries are still in jeopardy. How important have these FINTECH developments been?

AT: This is where we will see a lot of growth and excitement. One barrier to further progress is not technological. We have decent internet so the issue is firstly, we need to increase the number of areas where these innovations can be used. Right now they are quite limited. I am thinking of using a mobile e-wallet but I have to go to an official shop in town and register, supply the required set of documentation, and once you use it, the places you can use it in are rather limited. A part of the potential in this technology is that it will make it difficult to cover up small scale corruption, which is easy with cash. But there is still a chicken and egg situation in terms of outlets where e-wallets can be used.

So we could say in the long run, the public demand for convenience may crowd out the demand for corruption?

AT: Yes, and in the long run, it can have a huge effect on the “unbanked” and that will have huge potential for job creation. I have some relatives in government who started receiving their salaries through their banks, and their usage followed the same patterns seen by those in the private sector who were provided with Bank cards as I learned from speaking to bankers. At the beginning where there was an ATM when salaries were dispersed the ATM would just empty as people used it as a cash-out outlet. But in time they started leaving money in the bank and starting using the cards for making purchases. So, the cards have been extremely useful in the transition away from cash.

Similarly, for the government’s initiative when the card/ e-wallets were linked to a Mastercard, people started keeping some funds on the card. In the process they were creating deposits, giving the bank the ability to lend as these deposits grow and become sticky. So, there is convenience and value there, and that could spark wider financial development. But there needs to be a bigger deposit insurance scheme in banks, more than the very small $25,000-dollar limit recently introduced. But in the long term, this is extremely exciting. And these are the reforms that need to be pushed, and they should be COVID-inspired reforms because this is how Iraq gets out of its nightmare.

Would you say then, this is not about what the government needs to do but in some ways, about what the government should not do?

AT: I agree although of course there is a vital role for the government in general. The government should ensure there are law and order. Without that, a business cannot run, they need reliable mechanisms of exchange, debt and credit, and the enforcement of contracts. That is only done through law and order. It doesn’t have to copy a Western model either, but what is needed is the monopoly of violence by the state, and its monopoly to enforce the law, i.e. when rules of the game are predictable, enforceable, and applicable to all. Other competencies of the government are in infrastructure. Roads and electricity are enablers, as well as education and healthcare. Healthcare is a great equalizer, at least with decent healthcare you are helping the most vulnerable, and in the process building the state’s legitimacy. And if the government focuses on these and opens up the private sector, it will flourish.

(Source: IEI)

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s Startups will Overcome Coronavirus – And Be More Important Than Ever

Over the past months, coronavirus has changed the world as we know it. Almost every person’s family, community, and livelihood has been affected. Societies have had to adapt to social distancing, and economies have suffered the consequences.

After forecasting that the world’s economy would contract by 3% in 2020 – the worst downturn since the Great Depression – the Chief Economist at the IMF noted, “The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.

As is happening across the world, startups in Iraq are suffering from the ripple effects of coronavirus and the country-wide lockdown, which, in Iraq, has included closing all non-essential businesses and restricting movement between and within cities. At the beginning of April, Five One Labs sent out a survey to all of our alumni, startups that have graduated from our full-time startup incubators, and community  to see how they were affected by coronavirus.

Out of the over 40 startups that responded, close to 60% of them were experiencing challenges with financing their businesses and funding delays. Another 60% were not able to sell or deliver their product because of the lockdowns, and around 40% responded that they either could not get the materials to make their products anymore or the demand for their products had suffered due to the lockdown and subsequent economic downturn.

In response to the needs of our entrepreneurs, Five One Labs recently published our “Startup Survival Kit: Rebuilding After Corona.” The guide has resources and tools for managing a startup through crisis, but also has case studies and lessons learned from other startups in Iraq in terms of how they’re adapting to the situation.

As the case studies in the Survival Kit and our recent Facebook Live interviews have shown, there’s no end to the resilience of Iraqi entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are buckling down and doing what needs to be done to survive: 50% have reduced non-staff expenditures, and 10% laid off staff or reduced salaries to make ends meet. Entrepreneurs are reporting that they’re spending more time communicating with their customers, learning new skills, and working on building out their strategy for the future.

With the lockdown also came an increased demand for delivery and app-based services. In Kurdistan, startups like CharaPlus in Sulaimani (a pharmacy-delivery service) or Tdallal in Erbil (grocery delivery) are experiencing a growth in demand. On-demand delivery service Lezzoo added new features, like delivery of water, gas, and groceries from Carrefour in both Sulaimani and Erbil. With even local governments sharing information about grocery delivery services to encourage their use, the lockdown has introduced a larger part of the population to e-commerce. This shift could have a lasting impact on the success of tech startups moving forward.

What we’ve seen in Iraq is that startups here are built to weather crisis and fluctuation. Many startups have approached growth as “camels,” a new term coined to show a potentially smarter approach than the “unicorns” made famous in the Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs in Iraq grow sustainably, ensuring that their costs in general don’t exceed the revenue they’re bringing in. They make sure they have reserves on hand to adapt to the ups and downs of the economy, and they’re innovative in the face of obstacles.

This resilience after crises is more important now than ever. In Iraq, coronavirus comes on the heels of the economic hit caused by the global drop in oil prices along with growing regional instability. The coronavirus response has shown the ability of startups to adapt quickly to local challenges.

Moving forward, there’s a chance for startups to have an outsized impact on Iraq’s economy moving forward as they fill gaps in the market and help the country diversify its economy. So, to all the entrepreneurs out there – time to start rebuilding!

If you are interested in reading our Startup Survival Kit, you can find it here. Five One Labs published the Startup Survival Kit with the support of the German Federal Government through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. We will also be running a series of brainstorms and workshops for startups on how to rebuild after coronavirus. If you’re interested in joining one of the workshops, please email us at info@fiveonelabs.org.

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Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries.

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs.

Investing in Iraq: Lessons Learned from 2 Startup Deals in 2019

2019 showed an exciting development for Iraq’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: the investments in two Iraqi tech startups – e-commerce company Miswag, which received investment from Iraq Tech Ventures, and Lezzoo, the first Iraqi startup to join Silicon Valley’s premier accelerator Y Combinator.

In October 2019 Five One Labs hosted its second delegation of regional and international investors to the Kurdistan Region to expand understanding of the Iraqi business environment and startup ecosystem; to build bridges between international and Iraq business communities; and to expose local entrepreneurs to global best practices.

Through conversations with both early- and growth-stage entrepreneurs and discussions with local businesses and government representatives, the group of 17 investors received first-hand information about the business environment and entrepreneurship ecosystem on the ground in Iraq.

We spoke with the investors from the trip and had conversations with Yadgar Merani, co-founder of Lezzoo, and Laura Olivier, Executive Director of Iraq Tech Ventures, to dive into key challenges and opportunities for investment in Iraq, from the investor and entrepreneur perspectives.

Iraq’s lack of market data and challenging regulatory environment make it hard for investors and entrepreneurs to agree on the level of risk and opportunity.

According to Merani, one of the main challenges Lezzoo faced when speaking to investors outside of Iraq was convincing them of the country’s market size and providing them with accurate answers to specific market-sizing questions. Obtaining accurate estimates of the market is of course important for investors as it impacts projections of cash flow and potential valuation.

While data on numbers of pharmacies or schools, for example, are publicly available in other countries, the lack of easily-accessible market data and the reluctance of certain government ministries to provide this data has forced entrepreneurs in Iraq to rely on assumptions when sizing the market. Merani says that while Lezzoo tried to gather this information from various ministries, the team was often told that the information Lezzoo was seeking was either unavailable or confidential.

Additionally, the lack of general understanding of the Iraqi market and the risks of investing in a post-conflict environment mean that entrepreneurs may need to provide potential investors with additional information — and this is a point that has been expressed by a number of Iraqi startups seeking to raise their seed rounds. Merani said that on multiple occasions when trying to raise funds in the US, he was repeatedly asked questions like, “What happens if the internet goes out in the whole country? What would you do?” And this uncertainty or concern over volatility in Iraq may result in lower valuations for startups.

This added scrutiny also extends to the investment itself. The syndicate of investors that invested in Miswag’s seed round (four angel investors and one institutional investor) experienced legal challenges from the outset. When trying to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for Miswag in the financial free zone Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), ADGM repeatedly asked for more documentation given the startup was incorporated in Iraq. After several months, the investors eventually decided to invest directly into Miswag’s bank accounts in Iraq rather than through this SPV.

Olivier of Iraq Tech Ventures also mentioned another challenge:

“One difficulty we experienced recently was that many of the investors’ transfers were heavily delayed due to banks needing extra documentation due to the scrutiny that goes into processing transfers to Iraq.”

However, local and regional investors are willing to put in the work, and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge.

One of the Five One Labs investor trip participants, Anas Elayyan, said:

“Since inception, iMENA Group has been on the lookout for extraordinary founders and startups operating in under-served markets. The new wave of founders and entrepreneurs that we met in Iraq in the last few months are the real assets for Iraq’s future. Those entrepreneurs have been hustling in the system to mark a new digital era for Iraq. We, at iMENA Group, are very excited to be part of that era.” 

For Miswag, the success of the syndicate’s investment can likely be attributed in part to the fact that the investors were familiar with the market. Four of the five investors were Iraqis who work in Iraq but live outside of the country. Because of their knowledge of the operating environment, they were willing to invest directly rather than establishing an offshore entity.

Both on the investor and entrepreneur side, there are key innovators who are willing to take higher risks in order to show that high-growth startups can be built and grown in Iraq. “There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs in Iraq to take the lead,” Merani says, “because Iraq needs so much.

Looking ahead to 2020, we look forward to seeing more investments in Iraq’s tech startups and to welcoming another delegation of international investors to the Kurdistan Region later this year.

Please click here to download the full report in pdf format.

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Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries.

By Dr Amer K. Hirmis.

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Private sector investment in Iraq –  

What strategy for the next Prime Minister?

Iraq is in turmoil.  The protests of the Iraqi youth, which started on October 1st 2019, are calling for the end of corruption, inequality in income distribution, high unemployment and the current (ethno-sectarian) political system and outside interference. They are also calling for a better life and, metaphorically, for their ‘own country’ (watan).

The protests have so far claimed the resignation of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the outgoing prime minister. The appointment of a new prime minister is imminent. However, it is not certain whether president, Barham Salih, or, indeed, the current parliament itself will remain in place for a long time. The system they are part of has failed.

Politics aside, this situation compounds an already unfavourable environment for doing business in Iraq, as strongly indicated in a recent World Bank report (Oct. 2019). Political instability, uncertainty and indecision provide no comfort for the private investor.

There are, however, a number of reasons why the next prime minister should be bold and determined to make fundamental changes to encourage private sector investment. There is a need to ameliorate the severe structural problems in Iraqi economy to lessen its dependence on oil exports.  The enormous challenges they face include high youth unemployment (at ca.  25 percent), young population (60 percent under 30 years of age) and growing at around 3 percent pa., over 700,000 people entering the labour market each year, hundreds of thousands of senior schools and university graduates, to mention a few. They must act fast, deep and wide. None of these challenges is easy! The new prime minister must be willing to make economic development in the face of adversities. New strategies are a must, reversing old ways of doing things.

This brief note provides a few suggestions relating to what the next prime should do to induce (domestic and foreign) private investment in the economy.

First though history. The graph below shows the dominance of public sector investment (gross fixed capital formation) over the last 50 years. The decline in private investment intensified following the 1964 nationalisation of major private sector concerns, in industry, banking and commerce.

Private sector’s share of non-oil GDP declined from 87.3 percent in 1950 to 62.5 percent in 2010 (Hirmis, A.K. 2018a: 57). It was 61.8 percent in 2017 (cosit.gov.iq/n. accounts/2018, p.10).

Structure and ownership

The private sector’s role in the economy has been relegated for nearly 60 years now. Its previously wide-ranging economic activities have now been confined to mainly in retail and trade, construction, transport and ICT (http://cosit.gov.iq/AAS2017…). Crafts and light industry are the province of the private sector.

The majority of businesses are owned by sole proprietors, with the rest being largely family partnerships: the country has few large, multi-industry conglomerates. However, large private businesses are emerging in ICT, particularly mobile communications, in technical services for the oil and gas sector, and in manufacturing. Productivity in the private sector varies: Iraqi private firms perform better in this regard than others in the MENA region in textiles and garments, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, non-metals and equipment; by contrast, food processing and electronics have a relatively low level of productivity (WB 2017; WB 2019; and RoI, 2014: 41, apud Idris, I. 2018).

Skills and education  

As Christine van den Toornhas (2019) has remarked a key first step “will be education reform to prepare young Iraqis for private sector employment…It is clear that the issue is not a lack of demand…a lack of training in basic business skills such as finance and accounting, and a lack of core professional abilities, from critical thinking, research and report writing to being able to work with common software programs…This points to the urgent need to completely overhaul the public education system, including modernizing the curriculum…(short-term solutions include)… a nationwide series of accredited, specialized, one- or two-year programs that focus on developing language, business and professional competencies” Back in 2003, Nancy Birdsall (2003: 61) had observed that “Development and democracy require a fast uptake of Iraqis, including girls and women, into secondary school. They require replacing a school system focused on doctrinal propaganda with a system responsive to new demands for marketable skills.”

The wider issues

Second, the wider issues facing any future Iraqi prime minister in relation to inducing private sector investment go beyond industry structure, ownership, skills and education, noted above. The next prime minister should have a robust and realistic vision for Iraq’s economy, and its characterisation. They should decide for example whether they wish to build a capitalist, market, economy, where the private sector plays a key role whilst government plays an enabling role for wealth and jobs creation, especially in the productive sectors, like manufacturing and agriculture? On this point government has dithered since 2003. Now there is an opportunity to decide on the character of the Iraqi economy going forward.    

The prime minister and his advisors should, critically, have clear views of the dynamics of private sector performance; the business environment needed for investment to take place, and for firms to operate successfully. Private investment takes place on a very simple and familiar premise: the anticipated reward is worth taking the risk – i.e. reward vs. risk.

On the investment side, the World Bank’s October 2019 report on ‘Doing Business 2020 – Iraq’ clearly shows why both the domestic and foreign private investors are weary and reticent. Iraq fails on all the measured indicators used to assess the business environment – the ease of doing business. Iraq currently does not provide a favourable business environment. These indicators include ‘getting electricity’, registering property, obtaining credit, enforcing contracts and, inter alia, resolving insolvency. Iraq came 172nd out of 190 countries, very close to the bottom. In short, the next prime minister, and his advisors, must rise to an enormous challenge. And, this is one of the yardsticks for judging the success or failure of the next prime minister’s administration.

On the side of operation and performance, the latter, typically, depends essentially on eight factors both internal and external to the firm, as shown in the Figure below.

Economic history of market economies shows that growth is generated mainly by the private sector; the government plays an enabling role, through its economic policies, regulation, support for innovation and trade, and ensuring political stability within a democratic framework. Government also subsidies and regulates education, health services and physical infrastructure. However, regardless of the stage of economic development, a number of factors come together to influence both private investment level/structure and the performance of the firms, as indicated above.

Firms also need to consider in detail their profit and loss accounts – in the process of making profits (if they do), firms typically make allowances for wages, interest-bearing loans, or equity raised privately or from commercial/state banks. In addition, taxation, dividends, retained earnings, are also considered. Decisions on these matters constitute part of the firm’s behaviour, and could affect its future direction – e.g. expansion, diversification, or even closure. In the case of Iraq, there is also a consensus amongst observers that tackling corruption, bureaucracy and doing without an ethno-sectarian system of government is critical for economic development. Corruption, bureaucracy and cronyism deny many qualified potential employees access to jobs they deserve to have. Security and political stability are also a must for sustained private investment.

In other words, a large number of factors need to be taken into account in balancing the rewards versus the risks at the firm level. The new Iraqi government must account for this.

Finally, at the strategic (macro) level, the new prime minister has at least three options to stimulate private sector investment, accounting for the eight factors noted in the Figure above.

Option one is to introduce a radical and swift reform concerning doing business in Iraq, creating a conducive environment to induce private investment, by removing constraints facing it. The new prime minister would be well-advised to take a leaf from the World Bank’s recommendations for doing business in Iraq. They should also take a leaf from the government’s own ‘Private Sector Development Strategy 2014-2030’ which recommends amending current laws and regulations governing the private sector which impede the sector’s growth. These include Investment Law 13 of 2006; Company Law 21of 1997; Industrial Development Law 164 of 1964; Implementation of large projects Law 157 of 1973 and the Economic Establishment Law 98 of 1964). On the other hand, the private sector investors should observe the rule of law, especially the Labour Law (37) 2015.

The new prime minister should also seriously consult with Iraqi ‘Chambers of Commerce’ and ‘Confederations of Industry’ to develop an awareness of their concerns, aspirations and the dynamics of their performance.

Option two is to start with restructuring and rejuvenating the ‘State-owned enterprises’ (SOEs), to improve their productivity, keeping in mind the socio-political impacts this option might have. The SOEs, most of which are dysfunctional and inefficient assume a drain on government’s budget due to underemployment, redundancy and maladministration. The SOEs have also assumed control over the sectors concerned and in effect crowded-out most non-oil private firms (WB, 2017). The new prime minister could introduce a form of partnership with the (domestic or foreign) private sector to rejuvenate the SOEs, based on, say, 30-40 years lease, profit-sharing, joint operation, ensuring continuous professional development for Iraqi workers and continuous research and development(R&D). When in operation, major ventures should be linked with Iraqi/foreign universities, to encourage innovation. Such partnership arrangements do not have to take the form of BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) or BOOT (Build-Own-Operate-Transfer) business models. A new model could be struck, having the advantages of minimizing public cost for investment, reducing public debt, allowing for innovation, improving productivity (especially via FDI – Foreign Direct Investment), and, improve good governance, transparency etc. These arrangements could be applied to the manufacturing, agriculture and physical infrastructure of the economy, to start with.

Option three is to widen the remit of the proposed ‘Construction Council’ which the current/new parliament will consider in the form of a ‘Construction Council Bill.’ This was forwarded by cabinet to parliament on September 17, 2019 (https://gds.gov.iq/ar/cabinet-approves-the-draft-construction-council-bill/). For the Bill to induce private investment its current objectives and mechanisms need fundamental review and amendments to widen its remit so that SMEs could, for example, gain access to finance. Also, the Bill must not become another mechanism to further corruption and money laundering. It must ensure that Council works on strictly professional basis, avoiding the politicisation of its remit/work. Critically, the new ‘Construction Council’ must be regulated by, say, a new independent ‘Office for Economic Development Responsibility’ (OEDR) ensuring that Council performs and delivers major/SME projects efficiently and effectively. This means that the operator must not be the regulator, which is the case in many Iraqi institutions at present. Otherwise, the seeds of corruption will be easily sown (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2019/10/10/the-construction-council-bill-2019-a-critique-by-dr-amer-k-hirmis/). On this basis, the new prime minister could make a real difference and amend the current broken system of doing business in Iraq.

Of course the above three options are inextricably linked, indeed they could be implemented in parallel.

In all these options, education and economic development must be strongly linked, as noted above. University and vocational training graduates need to end up in jobs created by expanding productive and service sectors, taking advantage of the ‘digital revolution.’ In short, there must be close link between education (curricula) and the skills needs in the labour market. All girls and boys should have access to education to advanced level (up 16-18 of age), so that they would make informed decisions for themselves, in life and in participating in the labour market (Hirmis, A.K. 2018b). This is especially important at the micro-firm-level, ensuring the skills required are provided.

In summary

The new prime minister will be faced with many challenges, noted above, and none is easy!

Stimulating private sector investment is one area where they can turn these challenges into opportunities. The new prime minister will need to muster great wisdom and determination to rise to these challenges, and assist in wealth and jobs creation. Learning from Iraq’s own history and also from foreign experience in economic growth, is always rewarding. The new prime minister should seek well-reasoned, workable advice and apply it in the Iraqi context. This is one way of enhancing state craft. Iraqis will be watching the new prime minister very closely, and will demand results!

END

Key References

Birdsall, N. (2003) The Real Challenge for Iraqi Development (in The International Economy, Fall 2003: 58-61)

Christine van den Toornhas (2019) The Answer To Iraq’s Problems Is (Still) Education ((https://www.niqash.org/en/articles/society/6013/The-Answer-To-Iraq’s-Problems-Is-(Still)-Education.htm – October 31, 2019, accessed, Nov.15, 2019)

Hirmis, Amer K. (2018a) The Economics of Iraq – ancient past to distant future (Grosvenor House Publishing)

Hirmis, Amer K. (2018b) Iraqi Women’s Contribution to the Iraqi Economy – An impressionistic view (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2019/04/08/iraqi-womens-contribution-iraqi-economy-impressionistic-view-amer-k-hirmis-phd/).

Idris, I. (2018) Inclusive and sustained growth in Iraq (K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies (posted at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b6d747440f0b640b095e76f/Inclusive_and_sustained_growth_in_Iraq.pdf , accessed on Dec. 4, 2019).

RoI (2014) Private Sector Development Strategy 2014-2030 Republic of Iraq (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2014/09/Private-Sector-DevelopmentStrategy-2014-2030.pdf

World Bank (WB) (2012). Private Sector Development in Iraq: An Investment Climate Reform Agenda (MENA Quick Notes Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20577/NonAsciiFileName0.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y)

WB (2017) Iraq – Systematic Country Diagnostic (English). Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/542811487277729890/Iraq-Systematic-Country-Diagnostic

WB (2019) Doing Business 2020 – Iraq (http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2019/11/25/doing-business-2020-iraq-report-a-critique/).

Please click here to download Dr Hirmis’ full report in pdf format.

Dr Amer K. Hirmis is Principal at UK-based consultancy CBS Ltd. (2008-present). In October 2009, Amer began a 20-months assignment as Senior Development Planning Advisor to the Ministry of Planning in Iraq (funded under the DANIDA programme for ‘peace and reconstruction’ in Iraq). The posts Amer has assumed include Chief Economist and Head of Policy at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1992-5), Economic Advisor to UK South West Regional Development Agency (1996-8) and Associate Director and then Head of Consulting and Research (Middle East) at the global firm DTZ (1998 to 2007).

Dr Amer K Hirmis is the author of ‘The Economics of Iraq – ancient past to distant future’

[https://www.amazon.com/Economics-Iraq-Ancient-distant-future/dp/1999824105]

By Dr Amer K. Hirmis.

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Private sector investment in Iraq –  

What strategy for the next Prime Minister?

Iraq is in turmoil.  The protests of the Iraqi youth, which started on October 1st 2019, are calling for the end of corruption, inequality in income distribution, high unemployment and the current (ethno-sectarian) political system and outside interference. They are also calling for a better life and, metaphorically, for their ‘own country’ (watan).

The protests have so far claimed the resignation of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the outgoing prime minister. The appointment of a new prime minister is imminent. However, it is not certain whether president, Barham Salih, or, indeed, the current parliament itself will remain in place for a long time. The system they are part of has failed.

Politics aside, this situation compounds an already unfavourable environment for doing business in Iraq, as strongly indicated in a recent World Bank report (Oct. 2019). Political instability, uncertainty and indecision provide no comfort for the private investor.

There are, however, a number of reasons why the next prime minister should be bold and determined to make fundamental changes to encourage private sector investment. There is a need to ameliorate the severe structural problems in Iraqi economy to lessen its dependence on oil exports.  The enormous challenges they face include high youth unemployment (at ca.  25 percent), young population (60 percent under 30 years of age) and growing at around 3 percent pa., over 700,000 people entering the labour market each year, hundreds of thousands of senior schools and university graduates, to mention a few. They must act fast, deep and wide. None of these challenges is easy! The new prime minister must be willing to make economic development in the face of adversities. New strategies are a must, reversing old ways of doing things.

This brief note provides a few suggestions relating to what the next prime should do to induce (domestic and foreign) private investment in the economy.

First though history. The graph below shows the dominance of public sector investment (gross fixed capital formation) over the last 50 years. The decline in private investment intensified following the 1964 nationalisation of major private sector concerns, in industry, banking and commerce.

Private sector’s share of non-oil GDP declined from 87.3 percent in 1950 to 62.5 percent in 2010 (Hirmis, A.K. 2018a: 57). It was 61.8 percent in 2017 (cosit.gov.iq/n. accounts/2018, p.10).

Structure and ownership

The private sector’s role in the economy has been relegated for nearly 60 years now. Its previously wide-ranging economic activities have now been confined to mainly in retail and trade, construction, transport and ICT (http://cosit.gov.iq/AAS2017…). Crafts and light industry are the province of the private sector.

The majority of businesses are owned by sole proprietors, with the rest being largely family partnerships: the country has few large, multi-industry conglomerates. However, large private businesses are emerging in ICT, particularly mobile communications, in technical services for the oil and gas sector, and in manufacturing. Productivity in the private sector varies: Iraqi private firms perform better in this regard than others in the MENA region in textiles and garments, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, non-metals and equipment; by contrast, food processing and electronics have a relatively low level of productivity (WB 2017; WB 2019; and RoI, 2014: 41, apud Idris, I. 2018).

Skills and education  

As Christine van den Toornhas (2019) has remarked a key first step “will be education reform to prepare young Iraqis for private sector employment…It is clear that the issue is not a lack of demand…a lack of training in basic business skills such as finance and accounting, and a lack of core professional abilities, from critical thinking, research and report writing to being able to work with common software programs…This points to the urgent need to completely overhaul the public education system, including modernizing the curriculum…(short-term solutions include)… a nationwide series of accredited, specialized, one- or two-year programs that focus on developing language, business and professional competencies” Back in 2003, Nancy Birdsall (2003: 61) had observed that “Development and democracy require a fast uptake of Iraqis, including girls and women, into secondary school. They require replacing a school system focused on doctrinal propaganda with a system responsive to new demands for marketable skills.”

The wider issues

Second, the wider issues facing any future Iraqi prime minister in relation to inducing private sector investment go beyond industry structure, ownership, skills and education, noted above. The next prime minister should have a robust and realistic vision for Iraq’s economy, and its characterisation. They should decide for example whether they wish to build a capitalist, market, economy, where the private sector plays a key role whilst government plays an enabling role for wealth and jobs creation, especially in the productive sectors, like manufacturing and agriculture? On this point government has dithered since 2003. Now there is an opportunity to decide on the character of the Iraqi economy going forward.    

The prime minister and his advisors should, critically, have clear views of the dynamics of private sector performance; the business environment needed for investment to take place, and for firms to operate successfully. Private investment takes place on a very simple and familiar premise: the anticipated reward is worth taking the risk – i.e. reward vs. risk.

On the investment side, the World Bank’s October 2019 report on ‘Doing Business 2020 – Iraq’ clearly shows why both the domestic and foreign private investors are weary and reticent. Iraq fails on all the measured indicators used to assess the business environment – the ease of doing business. Iraq currently does not provide a favourable business environment. These indicators include ‘getting electricity’, registering property, obtaining credit, enforcing contracts and, inter alia, resolving insolvency. Iraq came 172nd out of 190 countries, very close to the bottom. In short, the next prime minister, and his advisors, must rise to an enormous challenge. And, this is one of the yardsticks for judging the success or failure of the next prime minister’s administration.

On the side of operation and performance, the latter, typically, depends essentially on eight factors both internal and external to the firm, as shown in the Figure below.

Economic history of market economies shows that growth is generated mainly by the private sector; the government plays an enabling role, through its economic policies, regulation, support for innovation and trade, and ensuring political stability within a democratic framework. Government also subsidies and regulates education, health services and physical infrastructure. However, regardless of the stage of economic development, a number of factors come together to influence both private investment level/structure and the performance of the firms, as indicated above.

Firms also need to consider in detail their profit and loss accounts – in the process of making profits (if they do), firms typically make allowances for wages, interest-bearing loans, or equity raised privately or from commercial/state banks. In addition, taxation, dividends, retained earnings, are also considered. Decisions on these matters constitute part of the firm’s behaviour, and could affect its future direction – e.g. expansion, diversification, or even closure. In the case of Iraq, there is also a consensus amongst observers that tackling corruption, bureaucracy and doing without an ethno-sectarian system of government is critical for economic development. Corruption, bureaucracy and cronyism deny many qualified potential employees access to jobs they deserve to have. Security and political stability are also a must for sustained private investment.

In other words, a large number of factors need to be taken into account in balancing the rewards versus the risks at the firm level. The new Iraqi government must account for this.

Finally, at the strategic (macro) level, the new prime minister has at least three options to stimulate private sector investment, accounting for the eight factors noted in the Figure above.

Option one is to introduce a radical and swift reform concerning doing business in Iraq, creating a conducive environment to induce private investment, by removing constraints facing it. The new prime minister would be well-advised to take a leaf from the World Bank’s recommendations for doing business in Iraq. They should also take a leaf from the government’s own ‘Private Sector Development Strategy 2014-2030’ which recommends amending current laws and regulations governing the private sector which impede the sector’s growth. These include Investment Law 13 of 2006; Company Law 21of 1997; Industrial Development Law 164 of 1964; Implementation of large projects Law 157 of 1973 and the Economic Establishment Law 98 of 1964). On the other hand, the private sector investors should observe the rule of law, especially the Labour Law (37) 2015.

The new prime minister should also seriously consult with Iraqi ‘Chambers of Commerce’ and ‘Confederations of Industry’ to develop an awareness of their concerns, aspirations and the dynamics of their performance.

Option two is to start with restructuring and rejuvenating the ‘State-owned enterprises’ (SOEs), to improve their productivity, keeping in mind the socio-political impacts this option might have. The SOEs, most of which are dysfunctional and inefficient assume a drain on government’s budget due to underemployment, redundancy and maladministration. The SOEs have also assumed control over the sectors concerned and in effect crowded-out most non-oil private firms (WB, 2017). The new prime minister could introduce a form of partnership with the (domestic or foreign) private sector to rejuvenate the SOEs, based on, say, 30-40 years lease, profit-sharing, joint operation, ensuring continuous professional development for Iraqi workers and continuous research and development(R&D). When in operation, major ventures should be linked with Iraqi/foreign universities, to encourage innovation. Such partnership arrangements do not have to take the form of BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) or BOOT (Build-Own-Operate-Transfer) business models. A new model could be struck, having the advantages of minimizing public cost for investment, reducing public debt, allowing for innovation, improving productivity (especially via FDI – Foreign Direct Investment), and, improve good governance, transparency etc. These arrangements could be applied to the manufacturing, agriculture and physical infrastructure of the economy, to start with.

Option three is to widen the remit of the proposed ‘Construction Council’ which the current/new parliament will consider in the form of a ‘Construction Council Bill.’ This was forwarded by cabinet to parliament on September 17, 2019 (https://gds.gov.iq/ar/cabinet-approves-the-draft-construction-council-bill/). For the Bill to induce private investment its current objectives and mechanisms need fundamental review and amendments to widen its remit so that SMEs could, for example, gain access to finance. Also, the Bill must not become another mechanism to further corruption and money laundering. It must ensure that Council works on strictly professional basis, avoiding the politicisation of its remit/work. Critically, the new ‘Construction Council’ must be regulated by, say, a new independent ‘Office for Economic Development Responsibility’ (OEDR) ensuring that Council performs and delivers major/SME projects efficiently and effectively. This means that the operator must not be the regulator, which is the case in many Iraqi institutions at present. Otherwise, the seeds of corruption will be easily sown (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2019/10/10/the-construction-council-bill-2019-a-critique-by-dr-amer-k-hirmis/). On this basis, the new prime minister could make a real difference and amend the current broken system of doing business in Iraq.

Of course the above three options are inextricably linked, indeed they could be implemented in parallel.

In all these options, education and economic development must be strongly linked, as noted above. University and vocational training graduates need to end up in jobs created by expanding productive and service sectors, taking advantage of the ‘digital revolution.’ In short, there must be close link between education (curricula) and the skills needs in the labour market. All girls and boys should have access to education to advanced level (up 16-18 of age), so that they would make informed decisions for themselves, in life and in participating in the labour market (Hirmis, A.K. 2018b). This is especially important at the micro-firm-level, ensuring the skills required are provided.

In summary

The new prime minister will be faced with many challenges, noted above, and none is easy!

Stimulating private sector investment is one area where they can turn these challenges into opportunities. The new prime minister will need to muster great wisdom and determination to rise to these challenges, and assist in wealth and jobs creation. Learning from Iraq’s own history and also from foreign experience in economic growth, is always rewarding. The new prime minister should seek well-reasoned, workable advice and apply it in the Iraqi context. This is one way of enhancing state craft. Iraqis will be watching the new prime minister very closely, and will demand results!

END

Key References

Birdsall, N. (2003) The Real Challenge for Iraqi Development (in The International Economy, Fall 2003: 58-61)

Christine van den Toornhas (2019) The Answer To Iraq’s Problems Is (Still) Education ((https://www.niqash.org/en/articles/society/6013/The-Answer-To-Iraq’s-Problems-Is-(Still)-Education.htm – October 31, 2019, accessed, Nov.15, 2019)

Hirmis, Amer K. (2018a) The Economics of Iraq – ancient past to distant future (Grosvenor House Publishing)

Hirmis, Amer K. (2018b) Iraqi Women’s Contribution to the Iraqi Economy – An impressionistic view (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2019/04/08/iraqi-womens-contribution-iraqi-economy-impressionistic-view-amer-k-hirmis-phd/).

Idris, I. (2018) Inclusive and sustained growth in Iraq (K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies (posted at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b6d747440f0b640b095e76f/Inclusive_and_sustained_growth_in_Iraq.pdf , accessed on Dec. 4, 2019).

RoI (2014) Private Sector Development Strategy 2014-2030 Republic of Iraq (http://iraqieconomists.net/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2014/09/Private-Sector-DevelopmentStrategy-2014-2030.pdf

World Bank (WB) (2012). Private Sector Development in Iraq: An Investment Climate Reform Agenda (MENA Quick Notes Series. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20577/NonAsciiFileName0.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y)

WB (2017) Iraq – Systematic Country Diagnostic (English). Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/542811487277729890/Iraq-Systematic-Country-Diagnostic

WB (2019) Doing Business 2020 – Iraq (https://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2019/11/25/doing-business-2020-iraq-report-a-critique/).

Please click here to download Dr Hirmis’ full report in pdf format.

Dr Amer K. Hirmis is Principal at UK-based consultancy CBS Ltd. (2008-present). In October 2009, Amer began a 20-months assignment as Senior Development Planning Advisor to the Ministry of Planning in Iraq (funded under the DANIDA programme for ‘peace and reconstruction’ in Iraq). The posts Amer has assumed include Chief Economist and Head of Policy at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1992-5), Economic Advisor to UK South West Regional Development Agency (1996-8) and Associate Director and then Head of Consulting and Research (Middle East) at the global firm DTZ (1998 to 2007).

Dr Amer K Hirmis is the author of ‘The Economics of Iraq – ancient past to distant future’

[https://www.amazon.com/Economics-Iraq-Ancient-distant-future/dp/1999824105]

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) was pleased to be an official partner of Chatham House’s “Iraq in Transition” conference on the 2nd and 3rd October. The event was held by the Chatham House Iraq Initiative, led by Dr Renad Mansour.

On Thursday the 3rd of October the President of IBBC, Baroness Nicholson, chaired a working group on private sector development. The working group also consisted of a speech by Zaid Elyaseri, country Manager of IBBC Founder Member BP.

This first Chatham House Iraq Initiative conference was a huge success and well attended by the private sector, NGOs, universities, Iraqi and British Government officials, the media and representatives of the UN and the EU. IBBC was delighted that one of their member companies Crescent Petroleum, was the main sponsor of the event and to see so many of its members and members of the IBBC Young Executive Network attending.

https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/iraq-transition

https://www.chathamhouse.org/about/structure/mena-programme/iraq-initiative-project

(Source: IBBC)

By John Lee.

President Barham Salih has highlighted the need to address the obstacles impeding the work of the private sector in Iraq.

Addressing a delegation from the Iraqi Federation of Chambers of Commerce at his Office in Baghdad, the President stressed the importance of enhancing the role of the private sector in reconstruction.

Mr. Abdul Razzaq al-Zuhairi, the Head of the Federation, said he valued the President’s support for the private sector.

(Source: Office of the Iraqi President)

UNDP is helping to launch the Private Sector Development Strategy in Karbala

The Governorate of Karbala in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) organized a conference to roll out the Holly Karbala Private Sector Development Strategy (2018-2030) in Karbala province.

The Holly Karbala Private Sector Development Strategy (2018-2030) (HKPSDS) will support the diversification of the economy as one of the most important keys for the economic growth in Karbala. This new strategy will help create jobs and promote growth in the local economy.

UNDP, and the Governorate of Karbala, Provincial Council, Holy Shrines, private sector and academia, have been developing the HKPSDS for the province. Representatives of private sector companies, associations, academics, Directors of public departments, media and other UN agencies as well as officials from the local authority attended the conference.

The Governor of Karbala, Mr. Aqeel Al-Turaihi, said in his speech during the conference:

“The Private Sector Development Strategy will be a center of excellence of the private sector development among the local governorates, and Holy Karbala Government will provide full support to the implementation of this strategy”.

UNDP Deputy Country Director Mr. Gerardo Noto said:

The implementation of this strategy will contribute significantly to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In particular SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), leading to achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation.

“It will also help to achieve SDG 17 (Partnerships for Goal) to encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships”.

The HKPSDS is an adaptation to the local context of the PSDS Iraq 2014 – 2030. It is designed to address the challenges identified and to achieve the objectives set on the national level in the PSDS Iraq (2014-2030) within Karbala Province and is intended to utilize the resources and opportunities available in the province, to achieve the overarching development objectives of revitalizing and strengthening the local private sector and improve the business environment, to contribute to local economic growth, sustainable development and job creation.

As the first one of its kind to be implemented in the local governorates of Iraq, The PSDS envisages achieving, by 2030, the vision of “Developing a viable, competitive, local private sector, led by the business community that contributes to the local economy, job creation and sustainable local development in partnership between the Local Government of Karbala Governorate and the local private sector.

(Source: UNDP)

The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani, has praised the role of the private sector in stimulating Kurdistan’s economy, as the region is dealing with financial challenges.

During a speech at a conference organized by the Kurdistan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Sunday, Prime Minister Barzani said that his government “believes that the private sector could play a major and important role in developing, reviving and diversifying the Kurdistan Region’s economy.

Below is the transcript of Prime Minister’s speech:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

Welcome to the opening ceremony of the third conference of the Kurdistan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. A special welcome to Mr. Adnan Al-Qasar, the Honorary President of Arab Chamber for Commerce and Industry, and participants from neighboring and friendly countries. It is my wish to see this conference provide a favorable and successful platform to the participants. I commend the organizers of this conference in Erbil.

The role of the private sector in revitalizing the Kurdistan Region’s economy, which is the title of this conference, is an important issue and has always been a priority of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The Kurdistan Regional Government believes that the private sector could play a major and important role in developing, reviving and diversifying the Kurdistan Region’s economy. Therefore, the government has provided incentives for local and foreign companies and created major job and investment opportunities in all sectors.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is also exploring more options to provide more opportunities and further empower the private sector. The government is considering to gradually privatize certain public services, which will provide more opportunities for the private sector. The privatization policy, especially during economic and financial challenges, will ease the burden on the regional government and help revive the economy of Kurdistan Region.

Lessons from the developed countries show that the private sector could play a major role in improving industry, agriculture, tourism and other sectors, and could become a cornerstone of a strong economy. In order to achieve that, the private sector needs the support and oversight of the government by having laws and regulations that encourage labor and investment, whether for major and strategic projects, or for medium and small businesses.

Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani yesterday attended the handover ceremony of a school built by UB Holding to the Ministry of Education.

Speaking at the ceremony, Barzani said:

We are in need of private sector and donors to help us build schools; it will be an immense support for the KRG and for the education sector in Kurdistan.

“Contributions of the private sector in the development and reconstruction of Kurdistan is of great important to KRG.

“Building more schools will help to provide a better learning environment for our children at schools.

This is the tenth school built by UB Holding Group. All ten schools were funded and built by UB Holding according to international standards.

During such challenging times, there is not better gift to students and the ministry of education than a modern school building,” Barzani said.

He continued:

The UB Holding has built six, nine, and twelve classroom schools in Semel, Bardarash, Slemani,Amedi, Batifa, Halabja, Zakho, and today we are here for the delivery of this 18-classroom school. UB Holding has also taken the responsibility to provide all school equipment and necessities for all the ten schools. In addition, the group has renovated 12 schools in different areas of Kurdistan.

“The location of this school was previously occupied by illegal housing construction, disregarding the master plan of the municipality. According to a plan, which was set by the governorate of Erbil in coordination with Habitat, the government demolished more than 500 illegal houses, and compensated each family with a piece of land in another location were all services were provided.

“As part of their activities, the UB Holding has offered the much needed humanitarian assistance to the displaced Yezidis, Christians, the beloved people of Shingal and others fleeing ISIS brutality. They have built halls and camps, in particular in Zakho to accommodate the displaced people and have provided basic humanitarian assistance in those camps. This is in addition to their continued support to our brave Peshmerga forces in the frontlines. They have done all of these projects because of their love for Kurdistan. I thank them and I wish them continued success.

“One of the main problems facing Kurdistan’s education sector is lack of school buildings. Despite the fact that building schools has always been in the agenda of the government and to some extent we have succeeded in reaching our goal but continued increase in the number of students requires building more schools.

(Source: KRG)