Iraq: UNAMI Focus - Voice of the Mission News Bulletin Oct 2008

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Interview with Ms. Simona Marinescu, UNDP economist and acting Deputy of UNAMI's Humanitarian, Reconstruction, Development Unit

By Randa Jamal

1. Can you provide a background on yourself and what brought you to Iraq?

After the fall of communism in Romania, I have been serving my country and my government for 13 years, the most difficult years of the transition to democracy. As a young graduate of the National School of Economics, specialized in socioeconomics, I began as a technical expert in the social affairs field in the Government, then became a Director and quickly after a Director General and finally served for three years as a Minister Secretary of State for Labor and Social Affairs. From that position, I ran and was elected Senator for a 4-year term, and I held the presidency of the Labor and Social Affairs Committee of the Romanian Senate. Social policies brought me closer to people and helped me to design social programs matching their needs and building a State-individual relationship based on respect and inclusion.

When my country decided to join the international coalition in Iraq, I made a proposal to my Government to offer support and assistance to Iraq for social reforms. I continue to believe that no economic reforms can be successful without receiving constant public support, and a poor population is never supportive.

The Romanian government presented the proposal, and thereafter I was assigned as Special Envoy in Iraq, part of the technical team for reforms. After a few months, I received new responsibilities as a World Bank consultant and then as a Sector Lead for social reforms under which I had the privilege to build the Social Safety Net system, covering today around 1,000,000 families assisted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs with a package of employment services and conditional cash benefits. Within the same package, children of poor families are receiving a monthly allowance conditional upon school attendance in an effort of the Government of Iraq (GoI) to limit school abandonment and child labor. In parallel, I assisted the GoI in reforming the pension system for which the parliament voted the law last December. Working with the Iraqi colleagues in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Finance or the Parliament was rewarding, enriching and particularly challenging. Looking at the so different Iraq today, I am grateful I had the opportunity to be part of this incredible progress.

2. What are the urgent areas that need utmost attention and perhaps reform?

A solid democracy in this country requires inclusion and opportunities for all. Without a sound private sector, people are not completely empowered and the economic growth is slow and not sustainable in the long run. The Government is called upon at this time of a visible security improvement to come up with economic solutions that can reduce reliance on oil exports and develop sectors that can offer jobs. As we speak, a new employment survey is being released by the Iraqi Central Organisation for Statistics and Information technology (COSIT) showing an 18.2% unemployment rate and another 29.4% underemployment. 10% of the entire population is still food insecure, despite the huge Federal Budget allocation for the Public Distribution System (PDS) that is supposed to provide basic items to the entire population, estimated for 2009 at over 30 million individuals.

As the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Iraq economist, I work with the Government for reforming the State economy and for building a functional market. As the Humanitarian, Reconstruction, Development Unit (HRDU) deputy, I need to make sure that during the unfolding economic reforms and security reinforcement, no humanitarian crisis occurs and, if any, relevant UN agencies' response is limiting displacement and migration and is securing the access of people to basic services.

3. There is a lot happening in terms of restructuring the HRDU, including the permanent presence of some UN agencies in Baghdad

After the dramatic attack at Canal Hotel in August 2003, the HRDU has been operating as the interface of the UN Country Team - located mainly outside Iraq - with the Government under clear mandates set by Security Council resolutions. As the security in Iraq began to improve, UN agencies started to resume activities and to reinforce their role in providing support to governmental agencies in all areas of basic services and development. In September 2008, the UN signed with the GoI the Assistance Strategy 2008-2010 marking a new partnership after almost 20 years of no formal collaboration for development. We are pleased to see every day more and more projects coming in along with their implementing UN agencies: UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF, WFP, UNIDO, UNDP, ILO.

4. Can you describe the relationship between ICI and IRFFI?

The International Compact with Iraq (ICI) is a joint vision for development that Iraq and its implementing partners put together as a framework of reforms that are crucially needed for building a professional public sector and a functional market economy in full transparency and accountability and under long stable auspices of reconciliation and peace and in full respect for human rights and for the rule of law. The UN co-chairs the ICI along with the GoI. To support the reforms, donors have created in 2003 the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) comprising two trust funds, one administered by the World Bank and the other one by the UN, the latter deploying to date over 1 billion USD out of the 1.3 billion USD deposited. Summarizing, the Compact is a collection of needed transformational programs while one of the vehicles for driving and funding them is the IRFFI.

5. Who are your main partners in the GoI and how do you describe the relationship?

For the UN here, every citizen of Iraq is a partner along the way to democracy and to social development. Serving people and their best interest is the unique item on the UN agenda. To strengthen selfgovernance in Iraq, the HRDU assisted the Government in endorsing the Paris Declaration for Aid Effectiveness. As a member of the Paris Declaration, Iraq became a partner of the donor community in full ownership of programs that are aligned with its priorities, are resultsoriented and mutually accountable. With the support of the UN, Iraq is in the position to advise donors and to guide their support towards areas in real need. That's how we understand to work with all central and local authorities in Iraq for the benefit of all.

6. HRDU is involved in several areas that directly impact the lives of the vulnerable groups. What are the methods in place to measure these areas?

The response to humanitarian needs is evidence - based and is built on systematic data collection and analysis and in consultation with the Government. Human development indicators are streamlining our work to support the GoI in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Also, I want to make clear that the UN doesn't work in isolation of NGOs and other international organisations operating in Iraq. We built consultation mechanisms that include data sharing and joint analyses to make sure our work has a common denominator. All outputs are then used for the field response that is mainly coordinated by OCHA in cooperation with WHO, UNHCR, and UNICEF.

7. What do you hope to achieve during your assignment in Baghdad?

After redesigning the social legislation and the institutional framework for employment, social safety nets and pensions in Iraq, the time has come for me and my team to concentrate on solutions for diversifying the economy of Iraq and for creating an environment that is conducive to business and particularly to foreign direct investment. Primarily, the focus is on jobs and, mainly, on jobs for youth who currently have a 30% unemployment rate. I want to look back in full confidence that whatever has been assigned to me was done with the people and for the people of Iraq. We, as the United Nations, have the mission to revive the sense of unity and partnership within the Iraqi society and none of us considers leaving before the job is done.