Thursday, September 3, 2009

Progress and Courthouses

Greetings again all, and welcome for another installment – this time, it’s SEPTEMBER!

Honestly, the time here does – more often than not – fly right by. I for one kind of work things though one week at a time. And boy do the weeks seem to fly right by. For this week’s blog however it’s not so much about me, but instead I have a great example of how our efforts here affect the things going on in this country. It’s the kind of good news story you just can’t get on CNN really. Not only does no one die, but it also shows how there ARE seemingly small but none the less very significant victories being had here. Below is an excerpt from the USAID representative here describing the long-term effects of his efforts working with the head of education here in Al Kut. This is a great example of what it means when I say that our job here primarily is to “advise and mentor” the people of Iraq so that they can take care of the country themselves. So without further ado – here you go…..

About a year ago just prior to the beginning of the school year and in
one of my first meetings with the Wasit DG of the Ministry of Education,
I asked him and the MoEd senior team sitting in the office for
statistics on the pass rates of high school students who took the final
exams in Wasit. I was a bit disappointed to find out that not one
person in the room amongst the top leadership of the ministry could give
that information. And perhaps to make matters worse, they did not seem
to be able to find the information in any one document within the
ministry to present to me. That day and in my next few meetings, we
talked about the need to keep such statistics especially as a basis to
plan ahead; but I do not recall ever bringing up the subject again after
November last year.

Yesterday, I very casually asked the same question, and was quite
pleased to see the DG himself give us the pass rate stats for high
schools , detailed by high school categories without using notes.
After doing this, I thought I noticed him smile while saying that with
our help he hopes to get higher pass rates next school year. The DG has
changed in a lot of little ways and all for the better too........... (
he does not answer his phones or make calls in the middle of meetings
like he used when I first met him...was certainly one of the worst cases
and was known for this by PRT staff). Though these changes are quite
small, I feel blessed to be a part of and to witness such positive

But lest you be fooled into thinking that I’m just sitting back and watch other people work, the reality is that this past two weeks has been beyond busy. I recently took over as the “Project Purchasing Officer” for 13 projects for our province. Basically, I’m in charge of putting together all the paperwork for large projects in that we are doing for the country, monitoring the progress of those projects, and insuring that the contractors get their money – and that the U.S. and Iraqi people are getting their money’s worth. The U.S. government adopted a second “Surge” strategy that went largely un-noticed called the “CERP Surge”. CERP stands for “Commander’s Emergency Relief Projects” and these are projects that are supposed to (in a nutshell):

  • Address a immediate humanitarian concern
  • Provide for the advancement of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government
  • Must be something that the Government of Iraq (GoI) can sustain once complete.

Today’s only photo is me on tour at a courthouse that (as I like to say) “I am buying”. This one is a medium sized project to refurbish a courthouse that was in serious disrepair in a poorer city near the Iranian border. This project:

  • Provides pretty decent employment for semi- and unskilled labor (humanitarian assistance).
  • It helps legitimize the GoI by giving them working facilities.
  • And they should be able to maintain the building once complete with the money from the usual maintenance budget from the government.

Courthouses are really one of our biggest "money makers" when it comes to impact/dollar and they are a huge focus, especially since we’re leading up to the elections in only about 4 months as this is where a lot of the voting is going to be conducted. Also, there has been a lag up until now in the judicial system in the country mainly due to the fact that up until the security agreement the locals had only been handling “misdemeanor” type crimes mostly while the bigger criminals usually ended up at U.S. (or at least joint US/Iraqi) facilities. Now, they have to take care of all of the bad guys themselves.

This is a photo of me sitting in the head Judge’s chair. I figure if I’m buying the dang thing then I can sit in his freaking chair right?

And last but not least for today – I have to leave you with one of the strangest things I’ve seen anywhere when it comes to computers. I guess it was only a matter of time until Microsoft decided to just admit that random system errors were normal. But this little dialog box just proves that we have gone way over the line here really.

I swear I am not making this up. It’s not Photoshop or anything else. This is a 100% genuine error message received when one of my folks put their smart card (to log-in) in the computer.

Well that’s all for now. In my next post I’ll try and have more pictures of courthouses that I’m buying around here, and probably a photo to show you what about 7 million US dollars in paperwork looks like.

For now – have a great hump-day…and I can’t believe the week is already half way through.

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