Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Ms. Parwen Babaker Hama Agha

Ms. Parwen Babaker Hama Agha

CEO (WZA Petroleum (Nokan Group))

Ms. Parwen Babaker Hama Agha

Nokan Group was founded in 1993. Since then you have overcome several crisis that have hit the region, from an internal conflict in Kurdistan, the American intervention in 2003 or the last three years of crisis. How have you managed to overcome these challenges successfully?

Aside from believing yourself, an establishment needs good management, administration, and practice of transparency. Every work has its own obstacles and getting around them without a resolve will cripple the establishment and make it tougher to overcome difficulties that lay ahead.

After the revolution of 1991, we went through different phases. The first phase was the economic sanctions and crises. During that time, believing in our self and the local workforce was the most important thing. Since all the doors of other countries were closed, we had nothing but to rely on ourselves. We were able to re-operate factories using old tools and machineries that were made into scrap; this became not only a foundation for the industry but also a main income source for the government. At that time I was the manager of a cement factory; the products of the factory benefited the economy, provided jobs, and provided materials for construction.

The second phase started after Iraq was free. Foreign companies came to Iraq and worked with the local companies; they made great progress.

The last phase, now, is very different from the one started in 1991. At that time we had one university and three colleges, but now we have more than 20 universities and thirty colleges in Kurdistan Region. Furthermore, geopolitically, we were completely surrounded and isolated from outside; today, if the same scenario is to be repeated, we, at least, have two international airports, each having its own cargo.

In other words, we can say that in terms of workforce, technicians, and work environment we are in a good condition. Furthermore, in terms of natural resources, Kurdistan Region is rich in most of the sectors. Thus, we can say with ease that we can overcome whatever difficulties are in our way. What we have to work on is bringing foreign investment and wealth into the country; we have to earn the trust of the big companies by ensuring their safety and security.

WZA Petroleum Company is one of the main businesses of Nokan Group. In 2012, you expressed in an interview that “we should not extract all the oil from our fields, we should keep some underground for future generations, bearing in mind that techniques of exploitation will improve with time”.

At the time we made that statement, Kurdistan was intensively extracting oil and exporting it. We were not advocating for this process because this resource does not belong to one generation. Furthermore, oil and natural gas are not only to be exported, surely it is necessary to export some of it to provide the needed wealth and welfare; however, there must be a long-term plan. We believe that we should produce oil and gas in different phases. We must think about the next 100 years and about the future generation; if our oil is to be finished, what is to be done and what will replace it. This truth is recognized locally and internationally. The arguments are about energy resources. Oil production will decrease over time, surely alternative energy resource will be found, but its performance will not be the same as oil.

From the amount of oil we extract, a small amount of it should be exported and the remaining should put into work. When other countries import oil, what do they do with it? They use it in factories, refineries, and industrial units. Instead of exporting our oil, we should import the factories and tool that effectively exploit the resource. We must make Kurdistan the center and unit of this industry. It is far better to export the products of the raw oil than exporting the raw material itself. This will greatly impact and increase the industrial activities, workforce, and jobs. Therefore, we must bring in foreign wealth, investors, refineries, and factories. We should provide them with the suitable workplace in Kurdistan near the fields so they perform their work easier.

WZA Petroleum is currently working to establish two cement factories, and you are trying to do them in partnership with both international and local investors. How do you show the foreign investor that Kurdistan is the best place for investment and you are the best partner?

At a glimpse, Kurdistan appears to be rich only with oil and natural gas; however, Kurdistan is a source of many other industrial raw materials, especially cement. Bazian and Garmian area are rich with the best raw materials for cement. Currently, there are five productive cement factories in Bazian; they produce the best cement in the country, and a vast amount of their products are exported to middle and southern of Iraq. For example, the Sulaimaniah International Airport was constructed by a Turkish company; they brought cement from Turkey but in spite of their good quality they preferred our cement and use it in construction of the airport mainly because in our row material of cement there are not the undesirable materials for producing cement.

Currently our Company with partnerships, is trying establish two cement factories; one in Bazian with a local partner, the other in Garmian with a foreign partner. These two factories are important and they will have a good role in the area.

Aside from cement materials, Kurdistan is rich with mineral, and most of them are untouched yet. It will be a big industry in the future.

Beside raw materials and elements, there is another reason which will motivate the foreign investors to come to Kurdistan and that is security. They can be certain that their investment will be safe in Kurdistan and far from terrorists. It has been three years since ISIS emerged and we have not let them step into our region nor their hands to reach our people and our cities.  

As for ease of work for foreign investors, the law provided them with rights in such a way that foreign companies will have almost the same right as the local companies; that includes, being given land to work, Quarry, and other necessities. Foreign investors can read the related article of the law on the government’s website, to check how much ease of work is done for them.

The points mentioned ease of work, safety, security, raw material, and resources are the best motivation for foreign investors.

WZA Petroleum Company operates in several different fields, what makes the company really different from its competitors?

Wza Petroleum Company works on what its customers demand while offering best qualities before thinking of rivalry with other competing companies. We work on demanding sectors and produces that are necessary, and work on sectors that have not been worked on yet. We have been working on cement because we know it will yield a pleasing result; we have been providing services, in fields, for foreign companies working on energy projects because we know they are looking for a company that can be trusted and provide quality services. We were the first company who changed the court system, Sulaimaniah Court, into an electronic court; we are sure that we will make the foundation for an electronic government in the region.

We want to compete to offer better qualities and services; we work on improving humanitarian and social aspect in the region.

The core values of HBR are, aside from education, innovation and technology. At WZA Petroleum you have developed the Electronic Court, a software network to digitalize the justice system in Kurdistan. Can you tell us more about this project?

In most of the successful countries their government is digitalized, the most important aspects of electronic government is transparency and speed of executing work, performance.  For these reasons a lot of countries are focusing on digitalizing their government, offices, bureaus etc. such way that in some countries using paper has become embarrassing because every joint of the country is digitalized. This has increased efficiency of how fast the government works; transforming it from an old-fashioned system to contemporary system that functions without losing a second.

We started this project with most delicate and sensitive organization of the Sulaimaniah provenance, The Sulaimaniah Court, one of the most crowded organizations of the city; that is why completing this project was a great step toward digitalizing the Sulaimaniah provenance. It is true that the court is digitalized and it is the central processor that unites all the other organizations; however, all of the other organization in the provenance must be digitalized. In other words, an integrated system is needed for this system to work effectively. When the court issues a document to other organization in KRG it must be printed into a hard-copy again. That is why the electronic court has not achieved its purpose completely. Of course, when all the other organizations are digitalized, people will see the true difference.

As mentioned before the main two reasons for digitalizing is to save time and transparency of processes. Reducing time wasted on routine procedures will greatly save people time and digitally monitoring all the processes will enable transparency and eliminate corruption in other organizations, if existing. Therefore, we think that the Electronic Court was the right choice. We were really happy that the governorate of Sulaimaniah agreed on this project and was eager to help until the project was done.

What I have to say regarding this project is that all the remaining organizations must be digitalized as soon as possible because not only we don’t have time to postpone it, but also the rate in which telecommunication and networking is advancing is so fast that losing an hour or a minute will result in falling behind; we must compete with the technological advances.

Ms. Babaker, before leading WZA Petroleum and Nokan Group you held a public office as Industry Minister for the Kurdish Regional Government. What do you feel most proud of in your career?

I feel proud of the accomplishments that benefited the public; the work that benefited the organization and the public. For example, when I was the manager of the Sarchinar Cement Factory, and Saddam had just been overthrown; we were facing economical sanction from Iraq and Iraq from the world. We managed to operate the factory and produce enough cement for rebuilding and some for sale in the markets to provide income for the staff working in the factory also staff of other organizations, become at that time the Baath regime withdrew the administration from Kurdistan and also didn’t send the salary. It was at that time we tried to bring women forward to do business and jobs which was considered suitable only for man; we proved these ideologies wrong. Women started to step forward into industrial organizations and projects, and they proved that they can have the same role as man.

After this phase was over I was the ministry of industry and minerals. It was considered that women will not be able to manage such difficult ministry. We were successful and as a first step we privatized the Tasluja Cement Factory; it was the first establishment that the government made private. Now, the government tries to privatize more establishments in the future, such as the agriculture, as some establishments tend to improve better when they are private sectors.

Now, if our plans go the way we expect in digitalizing projects, it will be the foundation of electronic government.

HBR readers include the business leaders around the world. What is your final message from them?

In business there is no stop; stopping is the end of a business. There is continuous change, the more activity the better results. Don’t be afraid of the obstacles; reaching the tip of the highest mountain requires great endeavor. Staying in your place and gazing at the tip will not get you there, but your steps. Time is passing by and will not return.

Don’t lose any opportunity; if you are waiting for a better one, it may never come. However, if you take the opportunity, surely there will be better ones in the future. Don’t wait for the better ones coming tomorrow. Start with what is there today and take tomorrows opportunity with greater experience. What you have today may never come back, what you are dreaming about and wait for may never come. Seize today’s opportunity and wait for the opportunity of your dream.

With all of this mentioned, in business see more than just yourself and today; remember that benefits you and your organization gain is not enough, for it is not sufficient enough for the success of your projects. The satisfaction of your customers will prolong your success. A successful project will live on for more than one generation. Even when you are gone the products should remain. The best way to do that is not setting geographical borders, time, and sectors for yourself; don’t bind yourself with a lot of rules, complication, and principals. It is enough to say that never stop and seize the opportunity.