Administrative Reforms FOCUS ON THE REAL ISSUES [Archives:1998/41/Viewpoint]

October 12 1998

This week, the World Bank will tender an in-depth study on the administrative reforms of the country. It deals with many issues aimed at improving efficiency by demanding specification and division of authority within the administrative hierarchy, job descriptions, size of the bureaucracy, decentralization of decisions, etc. But the main thrust of the report is really to remove impunity of bureaucrats. In other words, strengthening accountability and transparency.
The final version of the report will be submitted to the Minister of Civil Service and Administrative Reforms next week when a World Bank team concerned with the matter will be meeting Yemeni officials. These reforms will determine whether the regime is willing to bite the bullet. The burden of the fiscal and monetary reforms, so far, have fallen on outsiders to the power centers. Administrative reforms will bring the point home, by forcing our politicians to be lean and clean, if they can.

Meanwhile, the political leadership is revisiting the issue of local administration. There are today six different proposals on the table. These range from an ambitious local government scheme – couched in elections of local officials at all levels; to local administration concept – which is a hybrid solution; to a confused proposal called local authority; to various forms of delegation of specific financial and administrative authority.
The main objection to the full local government scheme is that:
a) the villagers are not rational enough to make the choices that will best serve their interests;
b) the unity of the country is too fragile to let the regions have too much control over their lives; and
c) political control by the ruling party will be constrained as it will lose its patronage role.
Most Yemenis would be able to live with the hybrid formula – touted by many as the best of all worlds. It is called local administration. This would allow the villagers to elect local councils. But the officials at the level of governorates – including the governor – will be appointed by Sanaa. Some powers, such as levying local taxes, and employing new personnel, will be given to the local councils.

The main thrust of the administrative reforms, however, should be to make all officials and politicians accountable. Accountability should not be limited to low-ranking clerks. As things stand today, nobody has the right to hold anybody accountable, except the president, who is himself held accountable to nobody. Thus, the power to bestow or penalize is selectively applied to build power bases. For example, the president can bestow any amount of money to any one without any form of accountability. Similarly, he can penalize any one without accounting for it.
Let me give an example.
A few weeks back, the former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdo Ali Abdul-Rahman, was sacked in a humiliating manner. He has done nothing wrong. He was a victim in the power struggle among the president’s men. Now, the system does not offer this man any recourse whatsoever to be exonerated. He has to undergo more humiliation by appealing to the same people who have hurt him for redress.
That is why, the proposed refoms should really address such absolute powers. We need administrative reforms that remove the excessive powers of high politicians. We need institutions that work independently of the whims of powerful politicians. The aim must be to downsize the power of top politicians.

Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher