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UN envoy: Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption

UN envoy: Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. special envoy for Iraq urged the country’s new government Thursday to keep fighting corruption and move quickly on much-needed economic, fiscal and financial reforms.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council many other areas also need immediate government attention, among them ensuring human rights, resolving issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government, improving public services, addressing environmental challenges, and continuing to return Iraqis from camps and prisons in northeast Syria.

“The hope is that the confirmation of Iraq’s new government will provide an opportunity to structurally address the many pressing issues facing the country and its people,” she said. “The urgency is for Iraq’s political class to seize the brief window of opportunity it is awarded, and to finally lift the country out of recurring cycles of instability and fragility.”

A more than year-long political stalemate punctuated by outbreaks of street violence ended in late October with the confirmation by Iraq’s Council of Representatives of a new government and Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

Hennis-Plasschaert said that during its first three months, al-Sudani’s government has shown a commitment to tackle endemic corruption, poor public services and high unemployment.

Turning to the fight against corruption, she pointed to a number of important steps taken by the government, including trying to recover stolen funds and investigating allegations of graft.

“That said, I can only encourage the Iraqi government to persevere, as those who stand to lose will undoubtedly seek to hinder these efforts,” she said. “But if Iraq is to build a system that serves the need of society instead of serving a closed community of collusion, then ensuring accountability across the spectrum is absolutely essential.”

The U.N. special representative said “systemic change” is vital to address corruption and improve services that directly affect people’s lives.

As for economic, fiscal and financial reforms, Hennis-Plasschaert expressed concern at the increase in the exchange rate on the parallel market “adding to the pressure on everyday Iraqi women and men.”

“On the short term, it is obviously essential that the federal budget is passed expeditiously,” she said. “A further delay will only result in worsening the situation due to the well-known spending constraints.”

Despite high unemployment, Hennis-Plasschaert cautioned against any “further bloating” of Iraq’s “already extremely inflated public sector.”

She cautioned the government against relying totally on the country’s oil, which is vulnerable to price shocks, and urged it to focus on diversifying the economy, including by developing an employment-generating private sector.

Hennis-Plasschaert said the government also needs to swiftly implement the Sinjar Agreement brokered by the U.N. in October 2020 between Baghdad and the Kurdish-run regional government to jointly manage the Sinjar region. It is home to Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, and the agreement aims to restore the state’s hold over the patchwork of militia groups and competing authorities in the area after the defeat of Islamic State extremists.

When IS fighters swept into northern Iraq in 2014 the militants massacred thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved an estimated 7,000 women, including Nadia Murad, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to end sexual violence as a weapon of war. She returned to her home village in Sinjar this week with actress and activist Angelina Jolie to meet survivors of IS brutality and see progress in redeveloping the region.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mill called on the government to improve its respect for human rights and commit to implementing the Sinjar Agreement in close consultation with the Yazidi community.

He said the United States supports the prime minister’s efforts to root out corruption and improve public services, particularly providing electricity, and encourages development of the private sector and job growth, “with a focus on increasing women’s participation in the workforce.”

Mills added that the Biden administration is eager to work with the government on addressing the negative impacts of climate, including through the use of renewable energy and reducing gas flaring.

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