Are We On the Right Track? [Archives:2000/12/Focus]

March 20 2000

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi

Quite often people find comfort in resorting to their memories to reflect on the ups and downs of their life experiences. The reasons for this may vary from one person to the next. It is one of the means of escaping a present reality that seems to be outdone by a greater affinity with the past. This could be due to the fact that the present seems to be lacking in much of what the past had to offer to both individuals and society as a whole. More often than not it is due to the inability of the present circumstances to provide an environment of progress and overall enjoyment of life. Whatever the case may be it is clear from a consensus of the general public mood that Yemen has never had it so rough, since the end of the Civil War between the Republicans and the Royalists in the late 60s. The present state of affairs of the country seems to indicate that we have not been true to the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of our countrymen and the potential of our resources in creating a much more dynamic and vibrant society.
For sure, anyone having extensive street contact with the general population and continuously mixing with the various constituents of the population is bound to detect that those sullen faces one sees have a lot more to say than express a mere state of bewilderment. There also signs that there is a lot of discontent hidden behind the lines on the faces and a feeling that somehow the government is pursing a “who cares” policy as it stumbles through the management of public affairs. What is exactly wrong? Why are we lacking in any meaningful directions, not just as individuals but as a society as well?
In looking at the broad range of issues that Yemen is confronted with, at the present time, one seems to conclude that somehow these issues reach dead ends and appear almost unsolvable as they parade through the inefficient and almost mechanical bureaucratic jungle that has been enmeshed through the different institutional set up of Government. It is not really clear why issues just drag on and on and fail to reach decisive ends. Many of those involved in these issues tend to put the reason as being that the regime is in effect set up to keep people busy trying to reach solutions to the various issues they face in trying to lead normal peaceful and stable lives. The logic behind this is that people will then have little time to engage in political activity, or would not dare to engage in them because of the effect this will have on the issues that are trapped in the government do-nothing web. Even political discourse has become anathema to the regime as free public opinion encounters severe and sometimes brutal denouncement from the government.
On the other hand, trying to come up with any foreseeable forecasts or trends on the future outlook of the country is an impossible endeavor for two reasons: For one, there is the lack of transparency evident throughout the government, where very little information is provided to the general public on a mass scale. Even the news that is blared out on the audio-visual airwaves or the government press merely covers ceremonial facets of any major event with information limited to who shook hands with whom or who met who and where and who was there to witness it. Very bland and very monotonic. We do not even know why they meet since the reason is always to discuss matters of common concern or on the agenda. We are never given any figures of the major economic indicators that should be given periodically, as much as their reliability may be subject to doubt and questioning, but nevertheless it would be nice to hear them, even if they indeed do raise such doubt and questioning. It is not enough to say that all is fine and dandy and that all the senior public officials are giving their direct attention to the welfare of the society, when the overwhelming elements of the society see that most of these senior officials are very busy building large sumptuous palaces with entrance gates that are bigger than the all the buildings that house the residents of a typical Yemeni village put together, while others are busy buying the latest model landcruisers with all the auxiliary extras. We would like to see numbers aired as to the developments vis a vis the major economic indexes that tell us the effects that the increase in oil prices and the increase in oil production have had on improving the government budget and the chances for greater improvement of government services thanks to the rise in revenues for the government and the increase in incoming foreign exchange. We would like to see the status of the major economic projects and the impact they have had on the economy like the Aden Free Port Area and the Gas Deal, if any hope can still be maintained for these projects.
So, the only indications that one has, as to the trends we are falling into, are the thousands of wrinkles and skin lines on the discontented faces in the street, when it comes to the general public, and the continuos construction activities and consumption habits of the senior government officials. Between the two there is obviously a large discrepancy. The former reflects a people beset by unending problems, continuous economic decline and lesser standards of living. For the latter there is an increase in wealth and unabashed extravagance that would make Haroun Al-Rashid turn in his grave if he sees how much extravagance our government officials and the social dignitaries are submerged in. Somehow the gap widens and the suffering of the vast majority of the population continues to become entrenched as a normal part of life in the country. People tried to find answers to the perplexing problems of the day. They are becoming far less convinced today that it is the secessionists, the royalists or the foreign or regional powers. They are now certain that the fault lies within our borders and to be more specific within the ruling regime itself. There is not much anyone can really do.
Protest is out of the question, although it is guaranteed by the Constitution, which seems to have been thrown out of the library altogether and not just out of the shelf. The government insists that we only have one more dose to go through, but for the general public, they would like to have some doses given to the public officials for having such a good time with public funds and public assets without so much as being asked to pay taxes on all their highly suspicious extravagance and wealth, which is really not theirs anyway, because they have yet to show that they have earned it. Even for those officials who have tried to do something, there is a disproportion between their net worth and the jobs they do or the service they have given to their country, if we can call plundering its resources service to the country.
Many people are wondering how long can the comedy they are playing up there in government land continue, because there is no more mood for laughter anymore. Sense of humor has become a thing of the past, as the pain of being unable to meet sustenance needs becomes exacerbated, as you work until your eyes pop out and still the income does not suffice to provide the minimum needs for normal life.
It is getting harder and harder to convince people that a government reform program is in process when not one corrupt government official has been put to account for the plunder of public funds, which financed the sumptuous palaces and luxury cars and the fancy weddings of his children, while the majority of the employees under him are unable to meet the transportation costs of his children to school and back. Some of them have even wished that they would not come back to embarrass them anymore, until they realize that there is really no one to feel embarrassed in front of, because they are also going through the same plight. The kids have forgotten about midday snacks a long time ago. They have also forgotten what decent schools look like because the government does not have the money to maintain schools. However, it has money to dish out left and right to public officials who continue to insist that all is fine and dandy, thus emphasizing their incompetence to lead and to shoulder responsibility. As if money is not enough they are also given government lands, or they just take over any land they like impulsively just because it is near their homes and because they should be rewarded for all that they have not done for the people they are really supposed to serve Ð the carriers of those sullen faces that have gone far below the poverty line and are feeling let down by a regime that they have given so much for, without even getting back a thank you folks for their gullibility and response to all the directions that have insured that the regime is not confronted by any force – legitimate or otherwise – that would tell the regime enough is enough! That is how it is out there in the streets and it is bound to come to a point where those sumptuous palaces and luxury cars can be mere targets to let off anger by a public that has no where else lower to go except to hell Ð which is really where the other side is supposed to go to, not the decent hardworking citizens who are getting the short end of the stick from an impotent government that has forgotten that it is supposed to do something for all the people of Yemen, not just for those who are riding high and mighty with the regime, without giving anything to the people in return or in gratitude, for being so quiet about the nonsense and the oppressive nature of it all. It seems like the right track has been derailed for a long time to come, not just with the regime but with the people as well, who can do nothing except show their discontent in their faces.