Cablegate: Basra Government Flexes Muscles to Sack Ministerial Dg

DE RUEHBC #0048 2460821
R 030821Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) In a first for the Basra government, the Provincial
Council and Governor Shiltagh joined forces to use new
Provincial Powers Law to remove a federal official from his job.
Six times before, the Basra provincial government had tried to
fire the managerially challenged Director General (DG) for
Sewers, Khadim Ahmed Muhsin. Backed by the Minister of
Municipalities and Public Works in Baghdad, however, the
ineffective Muhsin had remained in place, doing little to
improve the provinces sewage management, and arguably making
matters worse. In the last round, however, the Basra government
leveraged both the Provincial Powers Law and our threat to
withhold assistance to finally force the DG from office.

2. (SBU) PRT Basra experienced first-hand the difficulties
working with DG Muhsin. The Provincial Council and the governor
were anxious to implement the PRT's two major sewer projects,
valued at over $21 million. The DG, however, refused to take
the necessary steps to move the much-needed projects forward,
and in fact seemed almost hostile in dealing with our staff.
During Provincial Council deliberations on how to deal with the
DG, the PRT underscored for a competent DG by stating that we
would put our two projects on hold until better leadership was
put in place in the sewer directorate.

3. (SBU) On July 22, the Provincial Council voted to fire the
DG, and days later Governor Shiltagh signed the executing order
to remove him. Under the provisions of the Provincial Powers
Law, the governor informed the Minister of Municipalities and
Public Works in Baghdad of the action, and submitted three names
of engineers working in the Basra's directorate of sewers as
nominees for the DG position. The Basra government named a
young, energetic female technocrat as the acting DG, even as
Muhsin refused to vacate his ministry office. The Minister of
Municipalities and Public Works did not act quickly on the
nominations, eventually rejecting them all. The governor then
put forward the acting DG's name, and the minister rejected her
as being too inexperienced. It was only after a PRT member
contacted the deputy minister in Baghdad directly to underscore
our intention to suspend our projects that the minister acted.
He proposed as the new DG a female engineer running one of the
larger sewage-treatment plants in Basra province. The governor
and the Provincial Council agreed to accept her. They also
acceded to the minister's demand that Muhsin be allowed to
resign at the end of August instead of being fired. When the DG
showed no signs of leaving at the end of August, the governor
sent police to arrest him, according to Governor Shiltagh's son
and political advisor. A shocked Muhsin collapsed as he was
being handcuffed. In a quickly arranged phone call to the
governor, he agreed to leave his office in return for calling
off the police. Muhsin showed up at work once more to turn over
his files to the new DG, who has confirmed that she has now
taken full charge of the directorate.

4. (SBU) Comment: The Basra government's use of the Provincial
Powers Law to remove an entrenched and ineffective DG did not
unfold in textbook style, but it did happen. Despite the
minister's transparent stalling tactics and eventual demand that
Muhsin be allowed to resign rather than being fired, in the end
the minister bowed to the wishes of the Basra government. The
Provincial Powers Law gave the current provincial government the
proper tool to succeed where previous governments had failed.
Governor Shiltagh has informed us that he is now casting a
critical eye on the performance of other DGs. For those DGs,
Muhsin's removal will send a powerful signal that they will be
held accountable by the Basra government for their actions -- or
inaction. It lets the DGs know that days of being responsive
only to their ministers -- and protected by them -- are over.



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