Decentralization has long been a topic of discussion in Iraq. Under USAID-Tarabot, those discussions have graduated to practical steps–hundreds of them. Ministries have begun to devolve authorities to the provinces, and governors’ offices are assembling compelling overtures for more control. USAID-Tarabot’s decentralization initiative has played an essential role in this complex process of legislative reform. Tarabot aligned its broad array of technical assistance under the banner of decentralized decision making. The team worked with central ministries, provincial ministry directorates, and governorate offices to explore opportunities to push operational decisionmaking authorities closer to the levels where services are actually delivered. Iraqi ministries have taken unprecedented and practical actions to see this vision to reality. The total number of decentralized functions in 2013 has rose nearly fourfold when compared to the entire previous year.
At the start of the USAID-Tarabot project, provincial representatives of central ministries were not allowed to approve their employees’ vacation requests without explicit approval from Baghdad–much less manage bank accounts or authorize repairs for a broken water pipeline. With help from Tarabot’s decentralization initiative, Iraq’s leaders are moving away from centralized decision making in Baghdad. Provincial officials are now empowered to exercise these powers and others, furthering the Government of Iraq’s goal of resolving Iraq’s major administrative, economic, and social issues.
In May 2013, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Ministry of Environment became the latest ministries to embrace decentralization, joining other Tarabot partners in the Ministries of Education, Labor and Social Affairs, and Municipalities and Public Works. The Ministry of Youth and Sports and Ministry of Environment decentralized over 30 functions altogether, some of which set notable precedents. For example, the Minister of Youth and Sports granted his provincial offices the authority to open and manage their own financial units with corresponding bank accounts. This shift, an antecedent for financial decentralization, will significantly accelerate procurements for equipment, maintenance, and construction, to the great benefit of youth clubs and centers in each province.
While USAID-Tarabot’s assistance has focused on the nuts and bolts of decentralization, it has also indirectly, yet significantly, contributed to Iraq’s national decentralization legislation in the 2013 revision to Iraq’s Law 21, or the Provincial Powers Act. Law 21 is the main legislative pillar for decentralization in Iraq; however, its impact was weakened by inconsistencies and ambiguities including conflicts of authority between federal and local legislative, executive, and financial bodies, and with other federal laws. USAID-Tarabot provided technical assistance to stakeholders involved in the re-thinking and re-drafting of the law, notably governorate offices. In August 2013, Iraq’s parliament passed a revised Law 21 that adopted stronger guidelines for decentralization, rectifying many of its constraints and hindrances. In several places, clauses and language present in the law were taken nearly word-for-word from USAID-Tarabot recommendations to its partners in the governors’ offices.