Iraq’s post-2003 history and development is often presented by two faces. On one hand the oil rich country receives almost 95% of its revenue from petroleum, foreign investment is mushrooming in Kurdistan and within the governorates, and elections are taking place. On the other hand, democratic change is hindered by many challenges, which include wars in surrounding countries, internal violence, human rights violations, and others. While these challenges are ostensibly the state’s responsibility due to its responsibility to maintain domestic security, uphold the law, and ensure due process, the problem of corruption appears to be more subtle and entrenched throughout almost all strata of Iraqi society.
A recent report released by UNDP titled Corruption and Integrity in Iraq’s Public Sector reveals the extent to which corruption is a part of everyday life in Iraq. A few key findings of the report suggest that almost 60% of civil servants have been offered bribes, bribery prevails across Iraq but varies regionally (Baghdad: 29.3%, other governorates: 10.2%, Kurdistan Region: 3.7%), and that 66.3% of all civil servants would not feel adequately protected if they were to report an act of corruption in their own ministry.  These findings not only illustrate the prevalence of bribery and corruption and that it is centered in the administrative capital of the country, but also that there is little being done to protect those who speak out or practice anti-corruption policies.
The report also explicitly states that “misconduct at all levelsis regularly reported in the media or directly experienced by citizens themselves in the interactions with public officials.” Therefore, corruption is not only acknowledged privately but also publicly, and by default condoned by those who fail to stand up against it in the media or in the political public.
It should be noted, however, that a problem arises when one juxtaposes an official definition of corruption and a patronage system such as wasta. A modern bureaucracy is likely to experience some corruption, but when the state must reconcile and define what falls under corruption and what falls under a deeper set of practices in Iraq’s then it becomes difficult to legislate these practices.
Nevertheless, legislation is not enough. The Commission of Integrity (CoI) investigates corruption cases and works to advocate for honest practice but the main issue is impetus. As stated above, there is a lack of public encouragement for whistleblowing, as well as protection for whistleblowers. Until the Iraqi government and administration legislate and enforce better practices publicly and privately, while encouraging whistleblowing, corruption in Iraq will continue. Furthermore, whistleblowers should organize to create independent anti-corruption organizations in order to raise awareness and place pressure on the government.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s future and impact to give readers an insight into how NCCI can better serve its network in the coming years and its wider impact on Iraq’s humanitarian space. The following includes interviews with:
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
1) As NNGOs gain capacity and improve efficacy, how can NCCI remain a relevant actor?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: NCCI’s relevance lies in its coordination role. A coordination forum/mechanism is relevant independent of the capacity of the NNGOs. One could even argue that the stronger and more efficient the NNGOs are, the more important it is that they operate in a coordinated and complementary manner in order to ensure effectiveness and avoid contradicting objectives and priorities.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think greater NGO capacity will only increase the need and role for NCCI. Countries with highly developed civil society organizations have umbrella groups similar to NCCI. NCCI is well on track to become this “must have” umbrella group in Iraq. There will always be NGO interests and concerns that can be most effectively presented to government jointly through an organization like NCCI.
DRC-Country Director: Continuation of support (provide direction, training, advocate access to funding, advocate placement/necessity in the country). NCCI could also be a leading organization on information sharing and organization of intervention as to avoid duplication in services provided or any other civil society efforts.
2) As this shift occurs, what are some ways by which international organizations can continue to support NCCI’s mission?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Having acknowledged the important short and long-term role of NNGOs, International organizations must also acknowledge the importance of effective coordination and partnership between the NNGOs. With these acknowledgements in the mind, international organizations should:
1. Work, liaise and coordinate with NCCI in a supportive and transparent manner.
2. Ensure that NCCI as a coordinating representative body for NNGOs maintains the capacity to fulfill its function as an independent, transparent, representative and accountable entity
3. In their efforts to build the capacity of civil society, international organizations should also increase awareness about the importance of coordination and collaboration and the value of NCCI as a mechanism for systematic coordination and cooperation. Only when the members of NCCI understand and accept the function of NCCI will they be able to maximize its usefulness and help it remain a credible representative body.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: In the middle term I think international organizations will continue to play the same role within NCCI and will continue to have the same needs for NCCI’s coordination and support. In the longer term local NGO’s may have a greater need to act collectively through NCCI, but I don’t think the needs of international NGO’s will diminish for quite some time.
3) What are ways by which NCCI can continue to facilitate good relations between NGOs and the Iraqi government?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Lack of trust has been raised as a major barrier to an open and functioning relationship between NGOs and the government. NGOs should seek to better demonstrate the value of their work and the principles, rules and procedures by which they operate. Over time, consistency in the application of principles, rules and procedures will strengthen the credibility of the NGOs and with that the governments respect. NCCI as the representative entity should in particular take measures to interact with the government at different levels in a consistent and transparent manner. This includes measures to build common understandings and trust but also denunciation should the government take illegitimate restrictive measures towards NGOs. It is also important to move away from an individual-centric approach to an institutional approach to relationship building to ensure that the government understands and respects NGOs as institutions rather than individuals. NCCI should also continue to function as a source of reliable information to NGOs to enable its members a better informed dealing with the government. This would reduce NGO vulnerabilities that are often related to the lack of knowledge and information about, for example, governmental administrative procedures and regulations.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think NCCI has done this well already and has positioned itself well to continue to play and reinforce this role in the future. While registration and visa issues may resolve in the middle-term future, there will be new issues of government policy toward NGO’s that NCCI will be in the best position to take up.
4) And ways by which NCCI can encourage government sponsorship of Iraqi civil society?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: When the government, at central or local level, begins to appreciate the value of Iraqi civil society as partners in supporting development in the country and responding to the urgent needs of the population, it might begin sponsoring and funding the work of civil society. I do not know if this already exists, but NCCI could also promote the development of a policy of even law that obliges the government to allocate a certain amount of money to the strengthening of civil society. Local examples could also be a good way to illustrate how civil society - government partnership could work. NCCI should therefore keep track of such cases and disseminate the information to show the practical result of civil society – government partnerships.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure exactly how NCCI can go about this, but it is certainly important to continue to build NCCI membership and develop good relations with the executive and legislative branches of government to be in a position to encourage government sponsorship effectively.
5) What are potential problems for humanitarian coordination in Iraq’s future?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: The ethnic, political and sectarian polarizations that are becoming increasingly rooted in the society also penetrate the civil society. Cooperation and coordination would suffer.
Corruption and inefficient administration becomes the “normal” way of working in Iraq and that penetrates also the civil society whereby the various humanitarian actors fail to adhere to established standards, build credibility and mutual respect.
Without adequate funding, civil society becomes weaker both in terms of capacity and diversity. Competition for funding drives humanitarian actors away from transparency and cooperation. More (financial) powerful actors, such as international, dominate the dialogue, thereby limiting the scope of interaction and contribution from other actors.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure what problems may emerge, but it seems important to me for NCCI to work on building its membership, good cooperation among its members, and good relations with all levels and branches of government to be in a position to promote humanitarian coordination and solve problems.
6) How do NCCI’s members hope to benefit from NCCI in the coming years?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Have access to information and knowledge; Have regular access and interaction with other national and international organizations; Receive support and advise in their relations with the government; Speak with one, stronger, voice around important matters.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: We at MCC hope to benefit, as we have in the past, from NCCI’s power to convene international and local NGO’s to facilitate networking and information sharing and from NCCI’s ability to facilitate the relationship between NGO’s and government.
NCCI’s Wider Effect
1) What are some ways by NCCI can serve as a model for local organizations in other emergency contexts that may lack a coordination organization’s presence?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): The inclusion of local NGOs in NCCI's membership and governing body is a very good example for other coordination networks. By simply bringing local organizations to the same security and coordination meetings, a more realistic understanding of local contexts is automatically transferred to the international organizations. Local NGO can also learn best practice models from INGOs and vice versa in some cases.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): As a relatively successful experience in a given context, it would be a mistake to want to reproduce the same thing elsewhere.
2) How has NCCI affected current coordination initiatives in other emergency contexts throughout the world?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Some small initiatives began in 2012 for an NGO coordination Committee in Jordan in order to address the needs in Syria. NCCI shared coordination mechanisms including surveys on how to gather info from other agencies in order to rapidly generate a broad understanding of NGO locations and work.
3) What is the greatest impact that NCCI has had on coordinating civil society in Iraq?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): NCCI is now in a position to act as a gateway between international agencies and Iraqi NGOs and other civil society representatives and organizations. This is very significant in so far as it has reopened the space between local and international actors in an effort to repair the trust that was lost between the two.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): I do not think we coordinated civil society in Iraq but that we were part of the coordination regarding humanitarian and development NGOs. In addition, the impact could only be monitored by a proper evaluation, not from my thoughts. But I would say that amongst those NGOs who participated in coordination with NCCI, main feedbacks were that we relatively succeeded to keep genuine humanitarian principles on top of the agenda, make outsiders (and sometimes insiders) know that NGOs were still operating in Iraq despite their low profile, participated to bring back in some big NGOs by highlighting the on-going (and longtime hidden) humanitarian crisis or improving capacity of NGOs workers through trainings. But this was only from 2005 to 2008. Before, NCCI also enabled humanitarian coordination to remain present despite the departure of the UN. After 2008, I do not know.