Consistency is Also Necessary  for Development [Archives:1999/44/Focus]

November 1 1999

Common Sense 
By: Hassan Al-Haifi 
One of the major drawbacks to the progress and development of the so called “Least Developed Countries”, if not the principle reason is the continuos erratic and often volatile changes, which are often imposed on a massive scale on the societies of these LDCs. While development, in essence entails change one must bear in mind that change should not always corroborate development. One of the chronic symptoms of autocratic regimes – which is the common political denominator of the overwhelming majority of the regimes in the LDC list – is rule by the issuance of ad-hoc and generally whimsical decrees, with the overriding consideration always being the sustainability of the political status quo. More often than not, such rule by decree tends to ignore: 
1) the variance of such rule on the interests of the of the overwhelming majority of the population – the national interest; and 
2) the merits of the existing systems involved or the possible other alternatives decrees that might have been more worthwhile and that would have far less adverse effects than the decree that was issued and has become “effective from the date of issuance”. The process by which such decrees are enacted may be a long and intertwining one, with many government organs and branches involved. But, as is the case in Yemen, where presumably some semblance of marginal democracy have been allowed to be implanted, all legislation and regulation originate from the central government – and more specifically its executive branch – the Council of Ministers. 
The “law-making branch”, or Parliament tends to become nothing more than surface dressing to give some aspect of “due process” manifestation and some degree of legitimacy to the legislation being enacted. The formulation of the law or decree is usually the job of the ministry with “jurisdiction” over the function involved, which is usually initiated by political decisions or to a need to overcome the absence of a legal framework to regulate the ministry’s operations or the functions it oversees. Sometimes, and this is the problem we wish to look at, they are often the issuance of a law amending an existing law that may go against the maintenance of the existing autocratic order, that may have taken power after the existing law was issued. We have seen this often in the legislative history of the Republic of Yemen, where laws and systems, which may have been fairly good and proven to have worked, become the victims of total amendments that have done much harm to the disruption of successful institutions and systems. 
This is true of the Investment Law and the Law of the Cooperatives, where previous laws have proven to be far more successful in harnessing investments, both foreign and Yemeni and activating a successful cooperative movement that was able to carry out several successful local development schemes and in building up local management potential for the running of such schemes, with a high degree of accountability. But the subsequent “amendments” to such laws have lead to the full stop on incoming private foreign investment (non-oil) and the government intervention in the cooperatives has literally frozen their attractiveness and their progress, if not killed the movement altogether. 
In retrospect over the past thirty seven years of Yemen’s history, since Yemen’s break from its stubborn impregnable isolation and strong cling to the middle Ages and the subsequent sudden full fledged interaction with regional and international developments, politically, economically, socially and culturally with less intensity as one goes from left to right, Yemen has undoubtedly undergone significant changes. But unfortunately many of the changes were erratic sometimes volatile and often not productive or helpful towards introducing development on a wide scale that will filter down to all the elements of the society. 
The political changes have been many and often violent with many casualties and little in the sense of political progress for the general population. Regimes have come and gone over the years, shifting from military to civilian to partisan (South Yemen) and finally to tribal-military, as is the present status. Perhaps the most favorable form that the Republic has taken was the 1968-1973 regime that was civilian and generally democratic and which raised the hopes that the Republic was really on the right track. The military ended that in 1973 with the Al-Hamdi coup d’etat. While many would regard that period (Al-Hamdi, from 1973-1978) as the best years of the Republic Ð and they are right, economically speaking, but they tend to overlook the fact that the revolt brought the military back to the forefront politically and thus ended civilian rule. 
On the other hand with the Revolution came several erratic changes, which included the massive executions, imprisonment and exile of the vanguard of the Imam’s regime, some of which could have helped to make a smooth transition to Republican rule, in view of their experience. But this created a big administrative vacuum that was filled by generally young inexperienced political opportunists, who could do no more than succumb to the “advice” of the Egyptian expeditionary forces that were sent to bolster the young Republic that was threatened with the return of the Royalists. 
Accordingly, the Egyptians introduced much of their bureaucracy and red tape that has lead to the creation of a similar bureaucratic order in Yemen, which eventually developed into a conglomerate of constraints that, in fact, became a hindrance to real development. 
When the Egyptians left and the Civil War ended, the surviving Republic tried to redirect Yemen’s future towards meaningful progress and as stated before the 1968-1973 period represented the best political environment that the Republic could create. Al-Hamdi did not try to remove some of the institutional progress, economically and to a certain extent politically, other than giving the last word to the military. In fact the cooperative movement and local municipal rule were given the green light to develop on their own and indeed there was considerable progress made towards having effective local participation in many facets of public life. 
The subsequent regimes, however were not so keen on allowing greater popular participation in political and economic decisions. In fact the subsequent regimes opted to remove much of the progress that was made in the Al-Iryani and Al-Hamdi regimes that eventually lead to the development of the tight centralized structure we have today. Many of the laws that were effective have been either “amended” or made useless, thus creating a lack of consistent legal frameworks for the Republic to operate on and creating confusion, as in many cases the amended laws were no improvement over the previous laws. 
On the economic front, the government’s insistence on removing local powers and ownership of resources has done more to hinder any hopes of fast development, as centralization has increased investment costs and removed the local management criteria, that is essential for the sound management of the natural and human resource base. 
The point to be made here is that for development to be meaningful and progressive, there must be some consistency in how we manage our affairs. Moreover there must also be consistency between what we say and what we do, as that has been also a leading handicap of our dissemination of information. Words tend to not mean what they are commonly understood by most thinking people and tend to mean just what the government wants people to understand them to mean, which leads to problems in formulating policies and the strategies that are necessary for their implementation. 
This is probably evident by the pending Local Administration Law that is under debate and which has totally retranslated the concept of local government to reflect the same thing we are in now, but in a somewhat different format. There is no indication that there are really sufficient grounds for lempowerment or ownership of resources implied. There are no indications that we have achieved the progress we were opting for by a new Local Administration Law.