Even amid conflict and fluctuations in oil prices, as home to the world’s third-largest oil reserves, Iraq has the sort of wealth from natural resources that makes it possible for its government to invest in the country’s infrastructure. Iraq spent more than US$51 billion on public procurement in 2014, well over 20% of the country’s GDP. Harnessing this revenue to develop the economy, however, requires an efficient system of government contracting.
Public procurement in Iraq has been effected by decades of sanctions, war, and instability—conditions that have created a system characterized by inefficiency, corruption, and delays. Procurement is a bottleneck that prevents budgetary expenditure; according to the World Bank’s 2014 Public Investment Management Report, often the process is stuck at 50%–60% of its capacity.
Another assessment in 2012 showed widespread corruption in public contracting weakening investors’ perceptions of doing business in Iraq, and thus hurting its prospects of increased foreign investment. Simply put, Iraq’s outdated procurement system, combined with its post-conflict low absorptive capacity, is significantly increasing the cost of public investment and also diminishing its returns.
The Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) procurement team has worked with the Government of Iraq to address this. The Bank’s regional public procurement strategy promotes building capacity in a way that moves beyond small-scale, short-term training, towards comprehensive programs that look for more sustainable solutions. In Iraq, the Bank is trying to help the country build a future generation of civil servants with the skills needed to manage procurement with efficiency and integrity.
With a grant from the Iraq Trust Fund, the Public Contracts Directorate (PCD) in Iraq’s Ministry of Planning forged strategic partnerships with six public universities located in different regions of Iraq. The idea behind these partnerships is to develop a supply of professionals who enter the civil service properly prepared to apply the principles of economy, efficiency, and competition within the public contracting process.
The program is diverse in its geographic scope and multi-disciplinary approach, reflecting the multi-stakeholder nature of public procurement. The PCD enlisted the help of faculties of law, engineering, public administration and business to establish procurement education programs across academic fields.
The Bank and PCD first needed to make sure, however, that academics in Iraq responsible for teaching the new procurement curriculum had the relevant content for it. Iraq asked the World Bank for help in learning how to develop programs for its procurement workforce. With the Bank’s assistance, the PCD struck up a partnership with Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense in France.
In October 2014, a group of 18 Iraqi professors and administrators from the universities of Baghdad, Salah Aldeen, and the Technical University of Sulaimaniya, Kufa and Basrah, attended an intensive two-week diploma program at Nanterre. “The students of Iraq are the future of our country,” Fareed Yasseen, Iraq’s Ambassador to France, said of the partnership. “We need to develop training models like this to provide our students with the modern skills necessary to succeed in government and beyond."
Some of the lecturers at these Iraqi universities have already adapted their curriculum and integrated procurement into existing academic programs. These include Angham Ezzulddin Ali Alsaffar, Professor of Civil Engineering at Baghdad University, who said the training course in Nanterre was proving useful for her and her students. Another university teacher, Ahmed Saydok, Director of Continuous Education at Salahaddin University in Erbil, had spearheaded the launch of new summer courses. “The bottom line is that the students are the raw material,” he said. “You can mold them as you want.”
This program did not emerge in a vacuum: It arose from prolonged engagement with the Bank, which sought to find solutions to fit Iraq’s specific context. When discussions first began, its government agreed to build the skills of procurement personnel. “We set the building blocks in a program that was rolled out over three years,” said Hamed Ahmed, Manager of Monitoring and Coordination at the PCD.
In 2013, a procurement needs assessment was conducted. One of its key points was the vast scale of the needs—there were thousands of government officials and stakeholders involved in procurement on a regular basis with little training on how to do so. But the ability to reach them was limited.
This capacity building program aims to address exactly that: By working with university teachers and students, the initiative is forward-looking, seeking to equip a future Iraq with procurement skills. It implicitly recognizes Iraq will need massive investment in infrastructure for water, transport and energy, and, therefore, a public sector capable of managing and executing this.