During his speech, the last 1st of May, Prime Minister Barzani expressed that “war and terrorism have been pushed away from the Kurdistan Region, and the Region has embarked the post-ISIS era. In addition, the 25th of September there will be a referendum on independence. What is your vision of this new era for the Kurdistan Region?
Taking a look at the past few years, our most recent dispute with Baghdad broke up in January 2014; the cabinet of the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki decided to cut off the budget to the Kurdistan Region, which obviously had a negative impact on our economy. In June 2014, the ISIS invaded Mosul and the siege began, which again added another crisis to the region creating a security vacuum around our borders. By the end September of that year, we had 1.050 kilometers of border with an international terrorist organization that aimed to destroy the Kurds.
Therefore, we have gone through a financial crisis and political disputes. However, after three years and thanks to the sacrifice of our Peshmerga, that have been the most effective forces fighting the terrorists on the ground, and our people, we have defeated ISIS.We have fought together with the Iraqi forces against the common enemy and we have defeated them, and the post-Daesh era will facilitate a new dialogue with Baghdad.
With the breakdown of Saddam and the Constitution of 2005, there was a new time for Iraq. This constitution recognizes the right of all the different minorities. However, after nine years we have reached a point in which our relationship with Baghdad is not working anymore; the Constitution makes clear that Peshmerga are part of the security forces of the country. However, we have not received any financial support from Baghdad. When it comes to oil and gas, the 96% of Iraqi budget, we don’t have any clear entitlement from Baghdad to exploit our own resources.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges over the last two years that have damaged the construction sector. What is the role of your Ministry in the reconstruction of the nation?
Prior to 2014, the construction industry was booming and our Ministry’s budget was over 600 million USD. Suddenly, from 2014 to date we have not received anything from a government that was forced to emplace a budget of crisis.
Despite the circumstances, in the last years, we have started several projects to try to generate income, instead of just waiting for the oil and gas revenues. By the end of this year, we are going to have a new plan for 2018 that will count with more financial resources beyond oil and gas, which is going to be an important support for the reconstruction of the nation. Our Ministry is responsible for the road network and housing and our priority plan of action entail to tackle those two sectors, as they are directly affecting the daily lives of people.
The crisis that broke up in 2014 has also affected the financial resources of the administration. Last May, you stated that the roadwork designed by your Ministry will require a 5 billion USD. What is the situation of the 97 strategic road and housing projects initiated by the Ministry and how can you raise the required funds?
We have to differentiate between two sectors: in the housing industry, we have to take into consideration the real demand, the actual needs of the population. We have a plan to address the demand for local housing, as the market has dramatically gone down by around 50% since 2013. We want to involve the private sector in the development of the market, as the role of the state is the mere oversight, and to encourage them to create new housing projects. Our will is to construct big housing complexes in the whole of Kurdistan. If we manage to involve the private sector in this matter, we will be able to handle the situation with a relative ease.
The roads and transportation infrastructure problems are more complicated to solve, as they require huge financial resources. As an example, just to fix the roads network we need 5 billion USD, and now it is really difficult for us to gather these financial resources. Hopefully, we will have a better budget for next year and we will be able to improve this sector.
On the other hand, the international companies have shown their interest to carry out projects in Kurdistan. Companies such as Limak or Inventis are already implementing several constructions and we are aiming to reach agreements with other international companies for long-term projects.
The foreign investment is key to the development of the Kurdistan Region. What are the main opportunities that the international investors can find in the construction field in Kurdistan? How can you reach them out to show them these opportunities?
Kurdistan is really important from the geopolitical point of view; it connects east and west. We have been working on a project that we call the “silk road” to connect east and west. Our region could play a key role, from Pakistan to Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean and Europe. We are working to attract international investors, especially Chinese, to make it a reality. It would create plenty of business opportunities in Kurdistan, which would become an important industrial zone, an economic hub the Middle East.
HBR readers include the business leaders and top decision makers around the world. As a discussion to this interview, what is your final message to encourage the investors to come here?
We have a very friendly investment law, especially compared to the rest of the region; it is way more attractive, and the government guarantees the property and the stability of the investment. Another example of beneficial conditions is that the price of electricity is cheaper than in Turkey, and we have important tax exemptions. In addition, the natural resources of Kurdistan make the region crucial in the Middle East, not to mention the opportunities for diversification in sectors like agriculture, where we could become the food basket for the wider region thanks to our rich soil.
Many investors left in the last years due to the security threats, however, every time that we have difficulties in this regard we overcome them. The future looks bright. We are pursuing independence in dialogue with Baghdad and on September 25th we will hold the referendum, which will bring us closer to independence. We have had enough tension in this region and now we have to move towards independence with dialogue and understanding. An independent Kurdistan will be positive for the entire region as it will bring more stability to the Middle East.