Prime Minister Masrour Barzani opened the 13th International Exhibition of Construction, Reconstruction, Infrastructure, Municipalities, Equipment and Industrial Institutions in Erbil on May 23.
The Prime Minister answered questions on the KRG plans for the construction sector. (summary)
Q: What is the KRG’s plan for the reconstruction process especially if we connect it to the development system? What is the KRG doing to ensure that investments continue?
Prime Minister Barzani: In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Thank you very much for this opportunity. I would like to thank the organizers of this exhibition for this opportunity. The government’s program is a service program and is about how we can serve our citizens to provide them with a prosperous life. When it comes to construction, there are many things that need to be taken into account. One of them are the needs of the people, but there are also other things that need to be taken into consideration. The price of real estate or housing units should be on a level that people can benefit from it. There are people who may have more financial means and want better things. But on the other hand, there are people who do not have much income. The government has a program to build 20,000 housing units so that these people can benefit from the government’s program. For the proud families of the martyrs we have have programs to provide free housing units for these families. We have done so in Duhok. We will make sure that everyone owns their own place or house. In terms of construction, there are some things that we need to take into account, one of which is the appearance of the city. This is the beauty of architecture in Kurdistan. The second issue is quality. The quality of construction should be taken into consideration. Prices depend on what kind of person wants to have what kind of building. We, the government, have demanded that the cities’s master plans must be reviewed and that green areas need to be taken into account so cities in Kurdistan will not become concrete cities. There are also issues for people with disabilities. Accessibility in public places needs to be taken into account.
Q: Quality assurance has become an increasingly critical concern, particularly in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. People are now placing greater emphasis on the quality of construction projects. As the Kurdistan Regional Government, what measures do you envision implementing to enhance our focus on quality assurance?
Prime Minister Barzani: In terms of standards, we have asked our ministries and experts to only apply international standards. We also have a monitoring and quality control team at ministry level. I’ve asked my team to constantly monitor whether the promised quality has been implemented or not. Quality standards must apply to material, engineering and in every other aspect regarding construction. Steel of poor quality must not be used. I hope no one thinks otherwise, because legal proceedings will be taken against those people. We must keep this in mind to make sure housing and construction is safe.
Q: Price and quality are often linked. Now citizens might ask, if they pay a low price for a housing unit, will it not affect its quality? What is the KRG doing to ensure an equitable balance between construction prices and quality?
Prime Minister Barzani: No, it doesn’t affect quality. There are minimum requirements: What is the best safety standard at the lowest price. This is what’s considered a standard. It is between the landlord and the contractor how they can make an agreement, but there is a minimum standard that must not be undercut. Unfortunately, we have seen instances where certain schools remained non-functional for a year and subsequently deteriorated. This situation is detrimental to both the government’s and its citizen’s interest, resulting in significant losses. It is imperative that the acceptable quality standard, in accordance with international norms, should never fall below expectations.
Q: What has the Kurdistan Regional Government done to ensure that industrial companies work according to international health, safety and quality standards?
Prime Minister Barzani: When a project is submitted, there are expert committees from the relevant ministries to permit the project. They review the health and safety standards. Projects must be reviewed and given preliminary approval by the Environment Board, the Ministry of Municipalities, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior.
Q: One of the visions of the 9th cabinet was diversification of economic sectors. What is your cabinet’s vision for the construction industry?
Prime Minister Barzani: First of all, we must have data about our people to know the population of the Kurdistan Region. This data will determine the government’s planning for housing. We also have thought about developing the tourism sector in the Kurdistan Region. Several tourism communities need to be built so people can visit the Region. Tourists will help to revive the Kurdistan economy. Tourists will bring the need for guesthouses, hotels, even villas. Houses and residential units might also bee rented by people from abroad. All this has to be taken into consideration when we think about constructing new buildings and where we need build them? The people of the Region have different needs. For example, they need more schools and hospitals. All this requires scientific studies and all ministries must work together to make good decisions on how we can develop urban growth.
Q: To what extent have you been able to attract foreign investors to work in the construction sector in the Kurdistan Region?
Prime Minister Barzani: One example is today’s exhibition. From what I’ve heard most of the participants at these exhibitions are foreign companies. There are many local companies participating. Citizens are eager to find out what kind of materials and styles are on the market. If there is demand a free market will rule itself and attract companies who will attract people who look for jobs. Demand will also attract foreign companies or foreign investors to come here. But what is important to us is to attract companies that meet the quality standards of the Kurdistan Region.
Q: Your goal now is to pay more attention to quality?
Prime Minister Barzani: Both quality and appearance. We want our cities to be more beautiful and we want them to be greener. The style of the buildings is what makes a city attractive too.
Q: We have progressed beyond the stage of solely prioritizing sky scrapers?
Prime Minister Barzani: Of course, we have passed this. I will pay attention to this style when talking to the relevant ministers. When a new project is submitted, we will emphasize that it must make the city more beautiful. We have even gone one step further. We engage in urban planning asking questions like: Will a neighborhood be a place for commercial purposes. Will the residential units be used? Where should service units such as hospitals, schools be located? The issue of future traffic should be taken into account so that citizens do not face problems in 10 years.
Q: The Gulf countries which you have very good relations with have seen very good development in terms of construction in the past. What are your plans to benefit from their experience?
Prime Minister Barzani: We have seen in the Gulf countries, in Turkey and all around the region. We have benefited from their experience and we continue to do so. We have our own investors who have invested in other countries because of established relationship. We support this kind of relationship and I hope we can attract more foreign investors to Kurdistan.
Q: What is the government’s plan to support domestic investment?
Prime Minister Barzani: When you say investor or investment it’s different from being a contractor. An investor comes with capital and invests in a project. We will provide all kinds of support and assistance to local or foreign investors in Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Region has done this mainly so that we can increase trade movement in Kurdistan, so that the needs of our people are not at the expense of increased prices. Because the construction of many housing units has caused prices to fall. The situation might change with high demand and shortage of materials. So we help investors with customs and tax exemptions. Anyone who is interested in this top can talk to the Investment Board and find out which facilities have been provided by the government.
Q: Citizens often complain that some foreign investors do not rely on local labor. What is your opinion on this issue?
Prime Minister Barzani: I cannot make an absolute statement. Some companies might act this way, some might not. Some jobs require experts. Do we have this kind of expertise or not? If we don’t have it, we can’t prevent foreign experts from being brought in to make things work. Sometimes we see that our people may not be interested in certain kinds of work themselves. When foreign workers come here, it is not because there are no jobs here. If there are no jobs, how can foreign workers come here? But when foreign workers come here, obviously our people either did not have the will to do this kind of work or did not have the expertise. If they do not have the will, this is a problem. Because we have asked all companies operating in Kurdistan to employ 70% local workers from the Kurdistan Region and to train workers until they’re experts themselves. So much depends on the worker himself. Does he have the expertise? Is he interested in this job or not?
Q: Your cabinet has reactivated projects that had been stopped for a while. Some projects that were suspended have now resumed. What are your plans in this regard?
Prime Minister Barzani: This issue has several dimensions, one is economic and the other is social. The economic dimension is that companies go out of business and the contractor will not be able to finish his job. The social issue is that some of these housing units or projects have already been sold, but have not been completed. Therefore, we wanted to put an end to this situation. When an investment project is accepted, there are certain requirements an investor must take into account. We must review if the requirements are met. Investors who have not completed their projects need to report why this hasn’t happened. Why haven’t the completed their projects? Why have they violated someone else’s rights? Why have they wasted land? If there is a piece of land that is worth a lot of money, say a million dollars, but they have built something small on it for $100,000. They need to explain themselves. So there are guidelines and the ministries know how to deal with these situations. Many of these projects have been reactivated or outsourced, and the issues have been addressed legally.
Q: The construction sector includes many areas, not only houses and apartments, but also bridges, dams and many other this. In your opinion, which areas does Kurdistan need to develop further?
Prime Minister Barzani: In terms of construction, if you say Kurdistan, first of all we need to invest more in science and human beings themselves. How can we level up? This is more important than anything else. When it comes to construction or buildings or economic infrastructure, a lot of attention has been paid to roads. The quality of Kurdistan’s roads is much better than before, both in terms of engineering and project implementation. In many ways, infrastructure is important for us to be able to meet the needs of the people. It depends on where we want to go. If we want to focus on the tourism sector, of course we have shortcomings in that sector, such as hotels or many attractions that may not have been maintained properly. We have a goal and a program in this government to pay attention to building places that will determine the type of tourists who come to Kurdistan. Not only should tourists come here for sightseeing, but also to help the economy of the Kurdistan Region and the people of the Kurdistan Region. In some places we see that our people may need more than one health center and hospital. Yesterday, for example, when I visited Akre, they said that they are in need of a cardiology, because they cannot go to Erbil or to Duhok, it takes a long time. There are hospitals there, but these kinds of needs that people have are not met. For me and this cabinet, the people themselves are in the center. Anything we can do to serve our people we will focus on and we will focus on increasing our services.
Q: Erbil has become a meeting point for business people from all over Iraq in recent years. We were surprised that last week in Qatar at the World Congress of the Society of Exhibition Organizers, Erbil International Exhibition was among the 10 best exhibitions. Do you plan to increase such exhibitions and improve the impact on the economic sector of the Kurdistan Region?
Prime Minister Barzani: Of course, we have supported it and we will continue to do so. I would like to congratulate the organizers of these exhibitions who have been able to bring Kurdistan to this high level of recognition. Many foreign companies from all over the world are looking forward to coming to participate in the Kurdistan Region. I hope that these exhibitions will be expanded and more companies will participate in them. This will create a blend of quality and economic relations between nations, leading to increased bilateral cooperation among companies and the people of Kurdistan. So I congratulate you once again and I hope you succeed.
original article (in Kurdish)