photo: Eddy van Wessel


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Grab the vision, don’t let returnees leave again

Back to Canada, to Holland, to Britain. Many of my Kurdish friends who a couple of years ago left their new lives elsewhere to help the Kurdistan Region of Iraq towards a better future, now plan to use their double nationalities and return to what had before become home.

Some are bitter, most are disappointed. They had left behind careers, homes and friends because they felt they should play a role in rebuilding their fatherland. And many feel that if they had been allowed to use their experience and knowledge, things could have turned out quite differently. Then the present economic and political crisis could possibly have been prevented.

Many returnees to the Kurdistan Region have met distrust, and were not allowed to take up the positions that would have fitted their education and experience. And even if they did, their opinions would often not be heard.

Because the very knowledge and experience they wanted to offer their country, was considered a threat by locally educated Kurds, who as they could not compete decideded to block these competitors. And the politicians let them, because they needed to reward the locals to tie them to their parties.

Returnees were often seen as too critical, as in the cultural ways of the region, compliments are expected even when criticism really is due.

The present crisis is partly a result of this policy. Experts who talk about what caused it, name a number of things, and amongst them are nepotism and the lack of vision.

I know of western ministers who employ advisors to read books for them and brief them on the content, so they can get as much information from different places as possible to help them make well based decisions. 

When this is suggested to politicians in the Middle East, the general reaction is: do you think I don’t read books? But they do not realise they can never read all the books that are useful to shape a vision, nor all the background articles on line needed.

Caused mainly by nepotism and the need to buy votes, the Kurdistan region pays 1,4 million people a monthly salary or allowance, of whom 700.000 work as civil servants. And those are said on average to effectively work a total of only 28 minutes a day. 

An economic expert made the sum that this means, that the Kurdish government really could make do with 50.000 civil servants on a full time job.

It also means that often people were not employed for their capacities. Yet government jobs were popular because they came with a car, a piece of land, a pension. This led to people hanging on, instead of finding a job that would really suit them, as the private sector did not offer all those perks.

Whilst the economy was growing, nobody worried about it. Many civil servants had two jobs, and would just sit out their time in the government office before getting some real work done.

But now that war and low oil prices have changed it all, the truth about the government apparatus has been revealed. Because suddenly there is no money any more for all those people working just 28 minutes a day. And their second jobs have disappeared along with the investors and businessmen. 

This is the situation where returnees consider going back. No government income, no other jobs available and yet they have to pay their children’s schools fees – as the private schools offered their children the best education.

Yet the fact that they have learned to think ‘outside the box’ could be valuable, and the government would be well advised to listen to their opinion. Because vision does not come with the wind. It needs different opinions and analyses to be gathered and processed. It needs experiences from abroad to be compared to local ones. But it first and foremost needs an open mind to accept valuable influence from outside.

Returnees offer all that, plus their idealism to help their country to the best of their capacity. But very soon now, they will be gone. And they will not return, as they will not allow themselves to experience the same disappointment twice. Instead, they will put all their energy into building their future and that of their children outside Kurdistan.

It will be a tough decision for politicians, to choose between those who will vote for them, and those who will be able to make the country move out of recession and back into stability. I am not even talking about laying off people, but about getting the right man/woman on the right place to even help prevent too many lay-offs. But it should not be so tough. Not if they really care about the future of their voters.