Published on Arab Voices

Transparency, accountability and participation in Iraq: A simple starting point for better governance

ImageIn a resource rich environment, Iraq faces a significant challenge; the government must apply its resources effectively in order to enhance development and growth. Resource rents also tend to greatly reduce the impetus and motivation for reform.  Couple these issues with a volatile security environment and the problems seem endless.  Against this backdrop, the recent Iraq Transparency, Accountability, and Participation Workshop, held in Beirut on November 16 and 17 provided a platform for Iraq’s government, civil society, and private sector to address these issues and to reach a consensus on the best way forward.

This workshop was one of our first attempts at bringing together a broad range of stakeholders to discuss a very difficult agenda.  Participants outlined numerous issues relating to service delivery, civil society engagement, institutional reform, and job creation.  Governance was placed at the forefront and participants were encouraged to move beyond simply discussing the challenges to providing short and medium term solutions.  Ultimately, the most important consensus reached was the acknowledgement that good governance is dependent on a collective effort and that government, civil society, and the private sector all have an important role in ensuring success on this front. 

Over the past four decades, resource-rich countries around the world have been faced with a paradox—namely that countries rich in natural resources often perform worse in terms of economic development and good governance than those countries with fewer resources. On the other hand, some countries such as Norway, Botswana, and Ghana have managed to overcome these challenges and push forward toward socio-economic development.  The challenge for Iraq will be to harness its wealth and translate it into development opportunities. Doing so will require viable integrity systems, characterized by mechanisms of transparency, accountability, and participation.  

Institutional strengthening – legitimacy, capacity, and accountability – are essential components to a good governance strategy in Iraq.Fostering greater institutional legitimacy in fragile states can be a means to ensuring sustainable solutions to violence and providing a foundation upon which sustainable growth and development can be achieved.  Improving the tools by which accountability of government and citizen voice can be strengthened, such as through transparency, freedom of speech, independent media, power-sharing arrangements, civil society advocacy, political competition, and performance-orientation, are important ingredients to ensuring equitable and sustainable growth.  While the scope for such reforms is different depending on the context, an essential starting point is establishing the political space for citizens to express their demands for better transparency and oversight.

As one of our key speakers, Paul Collier, eloquently put it, “Security and accountability are two public goods that make economic development possible.  For citizens of Iraq, the accountability of government based on principles of transparency and participation may be more than a nice bonus – it may substantially improve the chance for development.”  The challenges ahead are immense but, if the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that social discontent is a catalyst for change.  An essential starting point is establishing a space for dialogue. Let us make the most out of these frustrations by translating them into constructive engagements such as this one. We have found that a simple starting point is to listen. 


Guenter Heidenhof

Sector Manager for Public Sector & Governance

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