Abdulkarim Shamsan: “There is a great hunger for information in Yemen.” [Archives:1998/45/Interview]

November 9 1998
The difference between advanced and backward societies can be gauged by the flow of information. In most developing countries, including Yemen, not many government organizations or private companies publish any kind of data. And if a person wants information, he/she is asked why it is needed, and is often asked to produce an official letter authorizing the release of such information, however, unimportant it is. 
But the flow of information does not only measure economic progress, it more importantly measure political openness. It is dictatorships that try to limit information flow in an effort to control the factors that shape public opinion. 
The Republic of Yemen, which is trying both – to modernize and democratize. It seemed setting up the National Information Center (NIC) would serve both purposes. 
Before Mr. Abdulkarim Shamsan was named as Executive Director of the NIC, he had worked as advisor to the Minister of Industry from 1992 to 1995. He was also a member of the Banking System Council, the Supreme Committee for National Economic Planning, etc. 
Ismail Al-Ghabiri of Yemen Times interviewed Mr. Shamsan. 
Q: When was the National Information Center established and why? 
A: The National Information Center (NIC) was established by Republic Resolution No. 155 of 1995, aiming to establish, develop and manage an integrated national information system. It connects several information centers in various sectors in a national network, which provides information and data to decision makers and relevant government agencies. 
Aiming to diversify information sources and optimally utilize available data, NIC also assists economists, researchers, investors, and other interested people. This helps in developing the efficiency of organizational administration, the optimum use of available resources, guaranteeing sound decision and policy making. 
By establishing data-basis, NIC also effectively administers information on a national level, sectoral and unit levels. 
Q: To what extent are NIC’s services utilized by researchers and decision makers? 
A: Huge changes and development have recently taken place within Yemen society. Social and cultural public awareness has risen markedly. The economic and cultural development processes have been accompanied by official and public interest in economic reform and structural re-adjustment. University education is increasingly becoming available for more people. Research and other scientific activities are more accessible now to scholars. All these positive developments have created a hunger for information among people in this country. 
Information is now vital for decision-making and policy formulation. Lack of data is a real, insurmountable obstacle imped-ing any form of research or strategy making. All these factors have made it absolutely necessary to establish a specialized information center. 
Due to rapid world developments, people who control information command the future. A people’s level of development may now be gauged by the information it has and the extent to which this information is utilized in the economic and social development process. 
Q: How does NIC fair in all this? 
A: NIC has a big and complicated task in hand. Its establishment came in response for the necessity to methodically manage and dispense information. The awareness of the need for information in policy-making was realized into an establishment – NIC. 
NIC is laying sound foundations for informatics in Yemen, according to scientific criteria. 
Q: What are NIC’s main tasks? 
A: The center was founded on the premise of establishing, administering and developing a national information system. This is primarily done through establishing data-basis; organizing information systems on national and sectoral levels; and collating, processing, analyzing, storing and retrieving information on various fields. 
NIC makes this information and data available to decision makers, investors, researchers and other interested people. The center also establishes information units and networks on both national and individual institutional levels. In addition, NIC provides technical advice on informatics to interested parties. 
Informatics awareness is promulgated through various publications issued by NIC, in addition to regular training courses for NIC’s and other organizations’ cadres. 
Q: What are your future plans? 
A: One of our major interests is to establish a modern national library to provide information and reference books for researchers. One of the modern methods of information dissemination will be remote reading or what is known as the ‘electronic book.’ 
Networking will be organized with similar establishments and information organizations abroad. 
Q: Is all information stored at the center available to researchers, or is there official red tape on some? 
A: NIC’s main purpose of existence is to provide information without any reservations. The world, as is often said, has become a global village. The availability of information to all has become the world’s main feature. Secrecy is now meaningless. If you cannot get information from a particular source, you can get it from another. 
The dissemination of information is conducted through three major channels. The first channel is publications, through which selected data is promulgated. 
Then there is the Internet project, on which we are now applying the final touches. A web-page has already been designed; while the preparation of the relevant topics and subjects is underway. Hopefully within the next two weeks, researchers will be able to access our web-site. Information will be available on all fields of interest. 
NIC’s’ third channel of information promulgation is an advanced one. Data is provided by networking with NIC. Anyone with a computer and a modem will be able to have access to information stored by NIC, even if he or she does not have an Internet subscription. 
Q: What is NIC’s relation with other government agencies? 
A: We strongly encourage the establishment of information units in all government bodies. Establishing a national information system – NIC’s main target – can only be done when there are information-gathering units within the various ministries, public corporations, etc. This means all bodies, starting with the Presidency Office down to the most basic administrative unit will be included in the proposed national information system. 
Q: Can researchers obtain information from your center freely? Or do they need special permission? 
A: It is our main duty to provide information and every possible assistance to advance scientific research in this country. Researchers are not obliged to get prior permission or a license to have access to information stored by NIC. There is certainly no law or rule stipulating that there should be such permission. 
Anybody wishing to obtain data and information can go directly to the center. A special system is set up to facilitate easy access to information. A researcher just has to fill in a special form, stating the required information. No prior permission by anybody is demanded beforehand, neither do we charge any fees. 
It is our duty to help researchers. A special system storing information needed for scientific research is organized by NIC solely to assist students and researchers. 
I call on all academics to supply NIC with copies of their researches or theses so as to enlarge its information base and help other researchers. 
Q: What departments does NIC consists of? 
A: There are two main sectors at NIC: Information and Studies and Analysis. The Information sector is the main technical part of NIC, comprising a number of important directorates. There is a special directorate for programming and informatics, another one for computer networks, publications and information awareness, data collection, data provision, etc. 
These directorates are subdivided into smaller departments with particular duties and specializations. 
The Studies and Analysis sector, on the other hand, also consists of various directorates dealing with information on politics, the economy, social issues, labor, etc. 
Q: How large is NIC’s labor force? 
A: There are 47 employees working at the center, 17% of whom are females. 
Q: Would you like to conclude this interview with a last comment? 
A: I hope that the mass media, official and independent, be more involved with raising public awareness of the importance of informatics. This issue is of major importance to us at NIC.