Madison, WI-When the idea for the Destination Baghdad Expo (DBX), a trade fair centered on reconstruction and security, was conceived in December 2003, it was to be held, naturally, in Baghdad itself. But escalating violence and security concerns forced it to be relocated twice, finally occurring 400 miles from Baghdad, in the ancient city of Diyarbakir, Turkey. The culmination of more than a year's efforts, which drew 200 exhibitors from 24 countries, proved as unpredictable as its planning process.
"It started slow but came out great," said Jesus Chavez, technical development regulatory systems officer for the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), of the mid-May event. WOCCU attended as an exhibitor with the intent of educating participants on the credit union difference.
The expo opened new doors. As Chavez explained, "there are no credit unions in Turkey either, so we had a lot of inquiries from the Turkish as well."
WOCCU's most important task during DBX, however, was to lobby for a credit union exemption from current banking legislation in Iraq that would allow credit unions to operate in that market.
In February, the Coalitional Provisional Authority (CPA), Iraq's U.S.-led interim government, passed a law requiring all Iraqi banks to hold a minimum of 10 billion dinars, the equivalent of US$7 million, at all times. This law arose as a response to the dire banking situation the country currently faces.
Essentially, Iraq operates with a cash economy. Many restaurants and hotels will not accept credit cards, and moneylenders operating from street corners are the only "financial institutions" most Iraqis recognize. But in their effort to legitimize the failed industry, the CPA barred entry to smaller scale financial institutions, even though they possess the ability to provide safe and sound financial services to all Iraqis.
Chavez pointed out that because we are nearing the June 30 handover of power from the United States government to a fully autonomous Iraqi governing body, it is not possible to change legislation immediately. Instead, he hopes to work within the current framework and continue to impress upon government officials the importance of allowing credit unions to participate in Iraq's economy.
WOCCU will continue to push until these barriers are eliminated, with the driving goal of providing hope of self-sufficiency for the Iraqi people. "We have to get the banking law changed," said Chavez. "That's really the bottom line."
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.