Can reforms reinstate values? [Archives:2005/876/Opinion]

September 12 2005

One would be ready to state categorically that all the various factions that make up the socio-political-economic fabric of our society are ready to agree that the present situation in Yemen undoubtedly calls for reforms to be instigated. Even the ruling party and the regime in power would not preclude the obvious need for reforms on a wide range of areas. After all, they have put forth a comprehensive Economic, Financial and Administrative Reform Program, now under implementation since 1995. This program is being undertaken with the support (and some prodding) of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the backing of most of the members of the donor community concerned with Yemen's poor showing in its development pursuits. Thus there seems to be no significant grounds for dispute amongst the various factions and entities in Yemen, within and outside the government on this universal recognition. So far the government is insisting that EFARP is proceeding well and much progress has been made in several areas. Indeed the IMF and the WB have suggested, at least from a macroeconomic perspective, that achievements have been accomplished, with most of the basis for this emanating from government figures and statistics. Independent verification of such data is still negligible and some IMF and WB reports add noteworthy qualifications to the analysis of the data provided.

Now of course there has been considerable disagreement between the government and the opposition political parties and organizations and many of the independent press organs on this very important issue over the last decade. Even some of the government's experts, who work on accumulating and evaluating the necessary data, and sometimes evaluating and monitoring the progress made, are not hesitant to admit privately or “off the record” that there is ample room for improvement on several fronts. In fact, some of these dedicated professionals have even dared to put their personal views on official memoranda or reports to their superiors. In these critical reports conscientious public servants have noted the discrepancies they came across between the official data and the real facts on the ground and the need for taking more constructive steps, so that reforms can start to have a positive impact on the targeted beneficiaries of these reforms: the Yemeni people across all sectors, social and economic groups, genders and ages. Regretfully, and this has been witnessed on many occasions, such objectionable opinions are either shelved or never given any due considerations in any assessment efforts and they are dropped from any reports that would be issued to or circulated among external stakeholders. As for their authors, the lucky ones are just ignored and sidelined from any meaningful functional responsibility, while some may face some form of reprimand or disciplinary action for projecting an “improper image for the state”.

Clearly, then it is not the desire of the government to be projected as unsuccessful in meeting the objectives of the reforms, even if it means at the cost of compromising the transparency it has become committed to as part of the political reform process Yemen is supposedly pursuing.

Now reforms are viewed as essential also by the various opposition political forces and many of the independent social dignitaries, intelligentsia and the majority of the independent press. However, these reforms are expected to yield meaningful results and reach certain parameters that translate in improved economic and social conditions for the people of Yemen. In other words substantive results are the real measures of success and all the indices, ratios and statistical data are meaningless if they do not translate substantively. This is the crux of the underlying conflict between the government and the opposition.

On a more pragmatic plane, many critics of the government are pointing out that reforms in policies, strategies and institutional frameworks are fine material for lengthy “technical reports” on the conditions of Yemen and for outlining the pathway for Yemen to achieve comprehensive development. But practically speaking, there is little to show the real application of such fine theoretical modeling. Nor has there been a discernible explanation why they have not met expected quantitative and tangible results projected. Of course, the government has managed to note various circumstantial developments, or external factors “beyond its control” that have hampered “real progress”. However, in retrospect, many a deep analysis of such circumstances would in many cases reveal that such circumstances are actually the product of unstudied political decisions, the interference of narrow interest elements in hampering any reforms that affect them, the absence of accountability and performance monitoring of the responsible government officials (which include the application of rewards and punishment for achievers and defaulters respectively). In addition, there is the absence of concrete independent oversight or the ineffectiveness thereof, where it might have a superficial but, generally clamped down presence. Of course one would obviously expect such a free for all atmosphere of governance to result in a relaxed attitude by government officials in performing their duties professionally and conscientiously with a loss of the real sense of the meaning of responsibility, especially as the management of public affairs would entail. With government wages becoming the manifestation of the law of diminishing returns, already in effect since 1983, the temptation to take advantage of public employment for other more lucrative sources of earnings, albeit illicit, starts to set in as a logical and acceptable phenomenon. As it gains new converts and with law enforcement becoming increasing fluid and subject to political will or irrational sentiment, one can see less attention to morals and values and even contempt for those who might still try to hold on to the minimal configuration of values. This is in essence what has happened in Yemen over the last two and a half decades, with Yemen first ending a slight flirt with prosperity that highlighted the late Seventies of the last Century and from 1980 onwards, it has been a steady decline in prosperity and eventually an economy that has lost all sense of momentum or balance and a society that has been seen an accelerated disappearance of all sense of values. The discussion continues in next issue.