By John Lee.

Iraq has been ranked 171st out of 190 countries in the World Bank‘s recent Doing Business 2019 report, down from 168th place the previous year.

Top of the list were New Zealand, Singapore and Denmark, with last place going to Somalia, just behind Eritrea and Venezuela. Iran ranked 128th, with Libya 186th.

Doing Business measures regulations affecting 11 areas of the life of a business. Ten of these areas are included in this year’s ranking on the ease of doing business: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Doing Business also measures labor market regulation, which is not included in this year’s ranking.

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(Source: World Bank)

In the framework of the financing agreement signed yesterday by the Government of Iraq (GoI) and the European Union (EU) committing €14 million (US$15.8 equivalent) to support the government’s efforts to ensure increased and more reliable energy access for the Iraqi population, the EU and the World Bank Group (WBG) have signed today a €12.85 million (US$14.5 equivalent) implementation agreement to provide the needed technical assistance.

The initiative complements the ongoing and upcoming World Bank interventions in support of the GoI’s energy sector reforms, including those embedded in the budget support operations series (Development Policy Financing programs – DPFs), the Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS) for structuring the Gas Value Chain and Gas Marketing in Iraq, and the support to subsidy reforms funded by the ESMAP’s Energy Subsidy Reform Technical Assistance Facility (ESRAF).

Supporting Iraq’s private sector enabling energy sector reforms is a priority development objective in the country both for the EU and the WBG. In a country where the energy sector accounts for more than 90% of central government revenues, addressing energy sector challenges is an essential and complementary action to any public finances related reforms, an area in which the European Union and the World Bank are also partnering in Iraq.

The country is also the world’s 3rd largest exporter of oil and its untapped natural gas reserves are the 12th largest in the world, yet it is forced to import fuel to meet its domestic energy demand, which imposes significant economic and fiscal strain on public finances. Equally important, Iraqi citizens are regularly faced with power shortages and have to resort to more expensive and pollutant sources of energy.

Efficiency in the management of public resources and delivery of services are critical to the achievement of public policy objectives, especially for a resource-rich upper-middle income country like Iraq, as well as fundamental to restore the trust and social contract between Iraqi citizen’s and the country’s institutions, especially in a post-conflict era of stabilisation and reconstruction. “As pledged in the Kuwait Conference, the European Union is committed to help Iraq’s reconstruction efforts and economic and political reforms to secure a better future for its citizens,”

(Source: Relief Web)

The World Bank Group, the Government of Iraq, and the Government of Canada launched today a US$1.95 million grant to support Iraq’s efforts to strengthen systems and deliver programs to empower women economically and politically.

The “Gender and Social Protection in Iraq: Towards Economic Empowerment” program consists of two complementary components: the first component will set in place long-term legislative and institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming, while the second will introduce programs that will support the economic and political empowerment of women in Iraq, including entrepreneurial programs for poor and vulnerable women.

Saroj Kumar Jha (pictured), World Bank Mashreq Regional Director, said:

We are excited to partner with the Government of Canada to support women’s empowerment in Iraq. We are committed to supporting women in Iraq and we’ll work tirelessly to ensure that Iraqi women have the opportunity to participate fully in all facets of life and to contribute to Iraq’s socio-economic development.

This project contributes to the wider World Bank’s socio-economic intervention in Iraq and is consistent with the Iraq’s Second Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Social Protection Strategic Framework.

H.E. Dr. Mehdi Al-Alak, Secretary General of the Council of Ministers, said

The program will support the ongoing gender empowerment efforts led by the government. It will help us achieve women’s empowerment by reducing legal, institutional, and social constraints and unleash their talent and energy to make our economy and society stronger.

Ambassador Paul Gibbard, Canada’s first resident Ambassador to Iraq since 1991

Canada recognizes that supporting gender equality and the empowerment of women is the best way to build a more peaceful, more inclusive and more prosperous Iraq. With our partners from the World Bank and the Government of Iraq, we will work to empower women so that they are able to play a vital role in establishing and maintaining peace in their communities—a necessary precondition for stronger economic growth in Iraq.”

The “Gender and Social Protection in Iraq: Towards Economic Empowerment” program will entail a review of existing women’s empowerment programs and provide technical support through workshops and working sessions to government officials on enhancing the design and implementation of these programs, as well as on strengthening monitoring and evaluation schemes.

(Source: World Bank Group)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi Ministry of Planning announced the launch of the Social Fund for Development on Sept. 23, with initial capital of $300 million, in cooperation with the World Bank.

The project aims to improve the living conditions of Iraq’s poor. High poverty rates in Iraq have led to repeated protests for 15 years calling for improving the standard of living and for more employment opportunities. These protests have resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.

A May 2018 World Bank report noted that Iraq’s population of 38.5 million sits at the poverty line with a poverty rate of 22.5%. The spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ammar Menem, told Al-Monitor that this high rate is due to “exceptional security conditions ensuing from the war and its costs, as well as to the slump in oil prices. This resulted in the cessation of funding of projects for the rehabilitation of unemployed persons, a lack of investment projects and faltering economic growth.”

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The World Bank Group and the European Union have signed a €15.6 million (US$18.1 equivalent) technical assistance program to strengthen public financial management (PFM) oversight and accountability Institutions in Iraq and increase the efficiency in the management of public resources and delivery of services.

The initiative, which will be implemented jointly by the European Union and the World Bank, complements the $41.5 million “Modernization of Public Financial Management Systems” program launched by the World Bank in 2017. It addresses some of the key vulnerabilities in Iraq’s PFM and supports the commitments and objectives for PFM reform currently under implementation.

“PFM is an essential part of any development process”, said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “Sound PFM supports aggregate control, prioritization, accountability and efficiency in the management of public resources and delivery of services, which are critical to the achievement of public policy objectives, as well as to restoring the trust and social contract between Iraqi citizens and the country’s institutions”.

As aid is increasingly provided through modalities that rely on well-functioning systems for budget development, execution and control, a sound PFM system is fundamental to the appropriate use and effectiveness of donor assistance. A more efficient PFM system is also instrumental in reducing inequalities in wealth distribution and promoting a dynamic and prosperous economic environment more conducive to business development.

“As was pledged in the Kuwait Conference, the European Union is committed to stand by Iraq in reconstruction and economic and political reforms,” said Ramon Blecua, European Union Ambassador to Iraq. “Our cooperation with the World Bank has been very fruitful and this project complements ongoing efforts supporting public finance management. The focus of the project we are signing today will be on the coordination of government and donors, more efficient management of resources, enhanced oversight and accountability, and fighting corruption. The EU is ready to help Iraq in facing the challenges ahead to secure a better future for Iraq”.

The program comprises of three pillars and nine sub-components. Each sub-component corresponds to a specific Government reform commitment/objective and has been assigned to a lead government institution/department acting as WBG-EU counterpart. While some components will be recipient-executed with support from the World Bank, others will be initially WBG-EU executed on behalf of the recipient due to capacity constraints.

The program envisages the creation of a Donors’ Coordination Committee, where all decisions regarding public finance management reforms and donor support to reforms will be discussed under the supervision of the Government of Iraq to ensure ownership, coordination, complementarity and overall reforms.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

The United Nations has advertised new positions in Iraq:

(Source: UN)

(Picture: Finger pressing a new career start button, from Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, is providing a financing package of $269 million to Zain Iraq, a leading mobile network operator, to help reconstruct the country’s telecom operations and spur economic growth.

IFC arranged a $269 million debt package including $100 million from IFC’s own account, and $169 million in mobilization.

The mobilized amount includes a B Loan from Arab Bank, a loan through the IFC Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program, a new syndications platform that offers institutional investors the ability to passively participate in IFC’s future senior loan portfolio, and a parallel loan from DEG and Finnfund.

The financing will help Zain Iraq enhance the capacity and quality of its 3G network and expand coverage to unserved areas, as well as helping the company modernize its networks and customer service in northern Iraq.

“This financing from IFC and partners will help us strengthen our footprint, modernize infrastructure, and provide a better quality of service to our customers,” said Ali Al-Zahid, the CEO of Zain Iraq. “It will also enhance access to higher quality broadband, a key enabler of broad economic activity, for both consumers and businesses.”

Iraq is one of the least developed telecom markets in the Middle East region due to the fragile security situation, and mobile network operators have struggled to maintain their networks and have refrained from investing heavily in infrastructure.

“Supporting infrastructure development in Iraq is an essential building block of the reconstruction effort,” said Mouayed Makhlouf, IFC Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Restoring and enhancing broadband infrastructure can have a substantial multiplier effect on the economy through increased connectivity and reduced transaction costs, enhanced flows of information, and more efficient and effective matching of market players, among many other much needed benefits.”

By arranging and mobilizing a seven-year loan in a country where long-term financing options remain limited, IFC’s investment will support Zain Iraq’s growth plans, while sending a positive signal to domestic and international players at a critical point in the country’s recovery.

Zain Iraq has been an IFC partner since 2011, when IFC arranged a $400 million syndicated loan for the company. This included mobilization of $195 million from DEG, Proparco, FMO, and the Infrastructure Credit Facility.

(Source: IFC)

The World Bank Group approved the Emergency Social Stabilization and Resilience Project (ESSRP), a US$200 million project that aims to improve the livelihoods of over one million Iraqi in liberated areas through the provision of cash, short-term employment, and other means of social support, namely to the most vulnerable.

As the Government of Iraq (GoI) is moving quickly back into ISIS liberated areas, the ESSRP will support the Government of Iraq in providing social support to the existing populations and returnees within the overall Iraq Social Protection Strategic Roadmap.

It will increase short-term employment and livelihood opportunities, and thus provide 150,000 households with cash for work support, benefiting about 840,000 individuals, and generating about 15,000,000 work days. The project will also increase access to psychosocial services for more than 150,000 people who will receive mental health and gender based violence assistance services to mitigate the psychological impact of the conflict on the population and would strengthen the systems to expand the provision of social safety nets.

At the same time, ESSRP will support the medium-term development of resilient social safety nets and provision of livelihood support, through financing small and micro enterprises benefiting about 12,000 households

This project is vital for ensuring that rebuilding Iraq is not only about rebuilding brick-and-mortar infrastructure, but also about improving the lives of Iraqis and bringing social stability,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “This project will support individuals and households to address the impact of the recent conflict and help communities to kick-start economic activity and create more jobs.

The project will leverage existing social workers and payment methods and would also introduce robust social accountability, citizen engagement, and grievance redress mechanisms to build social cohesion, trust, and strengthen the relationship between the central and local governments.

These mechanisms will also consider gender aspects and support for vulnerable and marginalized groups, helping to address some of the root causes of violence. The project is part of a full World Bank package of support to the reconstruction and development process in the liberated areas which focus on both the infrastructure and social dimensions.

The project will support poverty reduction and stabilization in the liberated areas,” said H.E. Mr. Mohammed Shayaa Al-Sudani, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, “At the same time, income generating microfinance programs will allow households to restart business activities, and to create jobs in these areas.

The project will also strengthen the resilience of social safety net programs to allow the GOI to assist poor/vulnerable groups and build resilience to shocks effectively and efficiently.

One key component of this project is to ensure people can address existing and future shocks. This project will improve social safety net programs for 1.2 million households across Iraq. It will allow households to invest in health and education, to break the intergenerational transfer of poverty” said Ghassan Alkhoja, World Bank Senior Social Protection Specialist and Project Team Leader.

(Source: UN)

Rehabilitation of three vital bridges in the heart of Mosul improves livelihoods for more than 1 million Iraqis

Home to a very ethnically and religiously diverse population, Mosul is a symbol of interreligious coexistence and cultural diversity in modern Iraq. During Daesh occupation, the damage inflicted deliberately on the city and the surrounding areas within the Governorate of Nineveh has been unprecedented.

The World Bank has been supporting the Government of Iraq (GOI) in reconstruction efforts, restoration of access to basic services, building trust, and revitalizing the return of displaced persons into the liberated areas of Nineveh, particularly Mosul city.

The World Bank has been supporting the rehabilitation of three vital bridges in Mosul, namely the Mosul Al Hadid first bridge, Mosul fourth bridge and Al-Muthana second bridge, as part of the overall Iraq Emergency Operation for Development Project (EODP) of US$750 million.

This collaboration between the World Bank and the federal Ministry of Housing, Reconstruction and Public Works on the restoration of the three bridges is part of a broader joint plan that will target 14 bridges in the liberated areas to be completed by 2020. The selection of these bridges came through a consultative process between the World Bank, GOI, the Nineveh Governorate, and the Iraq Reconstruction Fund.

The restoration of the three bridges has benefited more than one million Iraqi people mainly through restoring contacts between the two parts of Mosul city and with other parts of Iraq, allowing the speedy movement of the population, improving the economic cycle and helping restore normalcy of social interaction.

The World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region Mr. Hafez Ghanem said in his first visit to Mosul today

“The World Bank, through its projects in Mosul, and in close coordination with GOI, aims to bring back hope, energize the economy by creating jobs, and promote social cohesion. The restoration of these bridges is a symbol of re-connecting what was been broken. The World Bank reiterates its commitment to support the people of Iraq in the reconstruction and development process.”

On his side, the Nineveh Governor Mr. Nawfal Hamadi Al Sultan added:

“The needs of Mosul are very large, yet the rehabilitation of the three vital bridges by the GOI, with support from the World Bank, has helped to bring life back to Mosul and has contributed to the stabilization of returnees after the liberation of Mosul”.

This World Bank project to rehabilitate infrastructure is complemented by another set of projects in the process of being launched aimed at addressing the social aspects of the reconstruction process, namely the Emergency Social Stabilization and Resilience Project in the liberated areas which aims to improve the livelihood and generate job opportunities in addition to the Social Fund for Development, which aims to improve access to basic service and increase short term employment opportunities, in targeted communities across Iraq.

(Source: UNAMI)

IFC and Central Bank of Iraq to Strengthen Corporate Governance in the Banking Sector

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) are launching a series of specialized workshops, starting today, to raise corporate governance standards in Iraqi banks and strengthen the country’s banking sector.

IFC’s advisory services team will support the Central Bank in implementing its new mandatory corporate governance banking guidelines. IFC will initially train all key managers in the Central Bank and then roll out workshops to board members from all the country’s banks.

Topics include understanding the unique nature of governance in the sector, the right composition of boards, and risk management best practice.

Aly Al Alaq (pictured), Governor of the Central bank said:

“Helping banks implement sound corporate governance practices will increase the sector’s resilience and sustainability and make them more investment-friendly, enabling banks to not only boost efficiency, but also increase profit.”

The initiatives are part of IFC’s strategy to spur private sector growth in Iraq and scale up support for fragile and conflict-affected states, where private sector investment is key. For companies operating in conflict-affected environments, strong corporate governance can be vital for sustainability.

Ziad Badr, IFC Principal Country Officer in Iraq, said:

“Our aim is to foster a positive corporate governance culture within which banks in Iraq can operate, to strengthen the sector and drive growth … Improved practices help attract direct investments and ultimately stimulate social welfare and economic growth.”

IFC has been working to improve corporate governance in Iraq since 2014. As well as working with local institutions, in May 2017, IFC launched the country’s first independent institute of directors—the Kurdistani Institute of Directors (KIoD)—alongside the Erbil Chamber of Commerce and Trade, which advises on best practice and strengthening the role of independent directors and boards.

IFC’s advisory work in Iraq focuses on building the capacity of financial institutions, supporting governments, helping private firms improve their environmental, social, and governance standards, and mobilizing private investments through public-private partnerships.

(Source: IFC)