Anti-Corruption efforts impossible without political will [Archives:2004/770/Viewpoint]

September 6 2004

Last week, I was privileged to meet a German delegation representing the GTZ to help Yemen fight corruption. The idea of asking friendly donor countries to help us fight this incredible growing cancer is truly appreciated, yet does not by itself prove political will. I was quite clear in telling my guests that unless there is true political will to uproot corruption, any efforts made by the delegation will go in vain.
In the long discussion we had, I stated that corruption has become a norm of life throughout the country from the lowest-ranking employees up to top officials, and combating it requires strong political will.
In many analogous cases in the past, political will was assumed to be evident, not only in fighting corruption, but also in promoting democracy, and in supporting human rights, etc. But in many such cases where the government invited delegations and missions to help in such issues, the end was a disappointment, because of official hesitation and numerous obstacles in their way of missions.
For any mission to be successful, it must be exposed to maximum transparency, openness, and most importantly, given full cooperation.
I said I would be cautiously optimistic about the initiative, but I also stressed that the President of the Republic must show that the fight against corruption will now be materialized by prosecuting long-time, well-known, public fund embezzlers, who are infamous for becoming very wealthy in short periods of time.
The President must oblige the growing demands of the public to bring to justice, those responsible for illegally pocketing millions of Yemeni Rials.
I was glad to meet the mission, because I wanted to give them a view that is closer to the public opinion and further away from the official view. I thought it was important to give them a clear picture of the public's impression about their mission, and similar missions of the past. The public mostly think that such missions are merely a way of glorifying the image of Yemen as a country that serious in it's attempt to fight corruption, or combat other negative phenomena. But when it comes to reality on the ground, years after the missions started their work, they see little difference.
People want steps that would result in tangible positive change to their lives. The government and foreign missions explain that change cannot come over night, but the public usually asks for change to come and come quickly. And this is a challenge for this specific mission.
To achieve change, the government must take the recommendations and comments presented by the mission into consideration, and should act upon them to initiate much needed reform.
If the President is truly serious in tackling the problem of corruption, he should start with people at the top. Just like the stairs cannot be cleaned except from top to bottom, so is the case with corruption. We all know that Saleh is the only person who can make this possible. One case of filing a lawsuit and trying a big crook from the current or previous government would be a clear example that President Saleh means business and not merely words. Apart from that, the leadership should approve of giving Central Organization for Control and Auditing (COCA) more independence to enable it to interact with the public directly and establish a hotline that connects it to the people and civil society. It should be given greater powers to obtain information and files that may otherwise be inaccessible. It should be accountable, transparent, and should communicate with the press in conveying information about corruption cases and potential prosecutions of officials etc.
After our meeting, I hoped that my strong words did not de-motivate the mission, but I am glad that I conveyed an opinion that they may never get from the government. I disagree with those who think that there is political will to fight corruption.
Political will cannot be proven by receiving missions or delegations in governmental offices or in receptions, etc.
Political will only becomes a reality when we see crooks behind bars, and public funds returned.
We all hope and pray that our country's regime has indeed developed true political will, but until that is proven, we will keep our fingers crossed!