KRG Reform Bill: Legalizing early retirement for top officials a step backward
Like many governments across the world, one of the critical challenges for the Kurdistan Region is tackling corruption. One of the Kurdistan Parliament’s most crucial tasks is to pass the necessary legislation to address or, at least, minimize the impact of corruption.
However, high salaries and financial privileges to high-ranking government officials, including Members of Parliament and ministers, have placed an enormous burden on the general budget and created a gulf between the financial privileges they enjoy and the living standards of the rest of the civil servants and ordinary people. Public and civil society organizations have continuously called for changes that tackle the problem.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) faces different challenges in its quest for statehood and international support, and a transition to the rule of law and good governance. Despite these challenges, the KRG has the opportunity to introduce long-term reforms. Indeed, the new cabinet is serious about introducing lasting changes that tackle the ongoing mismanagement of public wealth.
On Dec. 11, the KRG approved its Reform Bill (draft law), which has already had its first reading in parliament. The bill introduces some of the most controversial, needed, and overdue changes regarding salaries, pensions, and allowances of KRG public employees. However, there is currently a significant gap between rules that apply to the KRG’s ordinary civil servants and its high-ranking officials.
Although the bill is grounded on fundamental principles such as providing equality and justice in remunerations and pensions of public servants, as well as preventing illegal and double-salary or multiple beneficiaries from the region’s public budget, it has failed to address the people’s continuous demands to eliminate exceptional retirements of high-ranking officials. The way the draft bill addresses the “exceptional” retirement of the KRG’s top officials is a step backward that undermines the Reform Bill and will continue to place a substantial burden on the public budget.
According to the bill, the list of high-ranking officials includes MPs, ministers and public directors, members of the provincial council, and others. These officials not only receive far higher salaries and allowance than ordinary employees, but they also benefit from an early and exceptional retirement at the end of their term in office, which usually lasts four years.
The bill states that the KRG’s public servants and high-ranking officials may choose to retire at an early age (45 years) with a minimum of 15 years of service. However, the bill contradicts itself because it states that one of the objectives is to eliminate injustice and narrow the gap between the KRG’s ordinary public servants and senior officials regarding salaries, pensions, and allowance. At the same time, the bill legalizes the early retirement of MPs and ministers and others with a similar rank who only served for a limited time (four years) to be given high pensions for life. The bill has failed to address the fact that high-ranking officials, whether legal or illegal, have been the main burden on the public budget while in office or upon retirement.
Theoretically, in a democratic system, voters have the opportunity to reward or punish politicians for their performances while they serve in office through elections. Therefore, the idea behind a higher remuneration for active politicians is linked with the increase in the quality of their performances. However, experience has shown that voters in the region are often unable or unwilling to reward or punish politicians for their inadequate service.
Unfortunately, some people we elect to office often seek political positions for numerous benefits rather than to serve the people. Otherwise, why would someone with little or no political experience agree to run for such demanding positions that require them to make social decisions? Perhaps this explains why some politicians resist changes that may affect their benefits.
We are far from the famous saying in the 1945 Idaho statement, “The best of our public officials don’t seek their position for the money… and after his long service is over, there is the monument to himself in the memory and the gratitude of the people he served.” The government should reconsider its position regarding the exceptional and unnecessary retirement of high-ranking officials, so the proposed reforms achieve their intended objectives. Only then can the political process be seen as a means of getting the right people in office to make the right policy decisions.
Majida S. Ismael holds a Ph.D. in Public Law/Constitutional Law from the University of Liverpool, England.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by karzan Sulaivany