Iraqi Premier Proposes Major Gov’t Reforms

Iraqi Premier Proposes Major  Gov’t ReformsIraqi Premier Proposes Major  Gov’t Reforms

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Sunday, proposing the cancellation of the country’s vice president and deputy prime minister’s positions.

A statement on Sunday on the PM’s Facebook page said Abadi will also investigate corruption, reappoint all senior officials based on professional rather than sectarian standards and reduce the number of security personnel protecting senior officials in order to cut down on waste, Al Jazeera reported.

Abadi held a meeting on Friday with a number of experts and advisers to discuss the administrative and financial reforms in his new bid to tackle corruption in the country.

The proposed reforms, at least some of which require the approval of the cabinet and parliament, followed a call for tougher measures from Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

But even with popular pressure and Sistani’s backing, the entrenched nature of corruption in Iraq and the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from it will make any efforts to change the system extremely difficult.

One of the most drastic proposals outlined in an online statement was the call for elimination of the posts of vice president and deputy prime minister “immediately.” But the changes would apparently require the constitution to be amended, meaning that rapid action is unlikely.

The three vice presidential posts, which come with more privileges than responsibilities, are held by former top officials, including Abadi’s predecessor and main rival Nouri al-Maliki, ex-parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and former premier Iyad Allawi.

 Maliki on Board

Maliki said in a statement the night before Abadi publicly outlined his plan that he supported the reform drive, indicating that the proposed changes may have been made as part of a deal that he endorsed.

Maliki stepped aside a year ago and was appointed to the largely symbolic role of vice president.

Abadi also called for a major overhaul of the way senior officials are selected, saying that all “party and sectarian quotas” should be abolished and the candidates chosen by a committee is appointed by the premier.

He also said there should be a “comprehensive and immediate reduction” in the number of guards for all officials.

This has long been a problem, with some officials having massive personal protection units, and others hiring less than the allotted number and pocketing the remainder of the allowance.

He called for an end to “special provisions” for senior officials, both current and retired.

 Endemic Corruption

He did not specify what these were, but large salaries, government-provided vehicles and generous retirement benefits have all long been bones of contention between the authorities and average Iraqis.

“Old and current graft cases should be reopened under the supervision of a high commission for fighting corruption.”

Ayatollah Sistani, who is revered by millions of Iraqis, called Friday for Abadi to take “drastic measures” against corruption, saying that the “minor steps” he had announced were not enough.

“He must be more daring and courageous in his reforms,” Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of Sistani, said in a sermon delivered in the holy city of Karbala.

But Abadi’s efforts face major challenges.

“The entire system of government is rotten. The constitution is decrepit, the legal framework is woefully inadequate and the political class is utterly corrupt and incompetent,” said Zaid al-Ali, author of “The Struggle for Iraq’s Future.”

“All political parties that are part of government profit directly from the current system, which is why it has remained unchanged since 2005.”

Baghdad and other Iraqi cities have seen weeks of protests against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave Iraqis with only a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day as temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius.

The demonstrators have blamed the services crisis on corruption and incompetence across the political class.

People have protested over services and corruption before, but the demonstrations failed to bring about significant change.