Constraints on NGO’s Work in Yemen [Archives:2001/19/Law & Diplomacy]

May 7 2001

Mohammed Yahya Al-Sabri
The Post Beijing Follow-up Operation Project Phase II, National project in Yemen is now entrusted with preparing an NGO’s network to be funded by UNIFEM. The assignment is required to be finished in one year time. That is why the National Project Manager Nadwa Al-Dawsary and the project assistant Suha Bashirin are very busy, at this time to complete the project.
The idea of integrating efforts of more than one NGOs to work together on one issue in Yemen in particular is a very attractive one and could be a suitable outlet for breaking the chains presently restraining the civil action. It is worthwhile to mention that the late Dr Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf was a pioneer in introducing the idea of founding such a network, but his death has deprived us of such an achievement. His tragic death has revealed what kind of difficulties the workers in this field are facing.
We think that considering these constraints and categorizing them according to their importance and seriousness is essential, without which any agency working for the development of civil social activities would be forced to stop its activity as it would be deemed to be fruitless.
Restraints put on culture and society are the top issues that create confusion in some related matters. We may here cite an opinion in this regard made by Dr Saladin Adakak, professor at Taiz university, published in Ath-Thaqafiya newspaper on April 12, 2001, which helps us to clearly understand the essence of this important issue.
Dr Adakak reviewed in his article the issue of foreign financing, especially from America, describing its function as that of the magic lamp that could solve problems with only one touch. He likened those receiving foreign funding to those operating vivisection on the society using contaminated instruments provided by unidentified hands.
Social constraints in Yemen and other Islamic countries are increasing in scope as they have extended to areas of religious activities and to other areas connected with social norms and traditions. Some research centers and organizations have faced closure, like to the center for Women’s Studies at the Sana’a University last year. Those in charge of the center might have offered justifications for its closure. The coming years are bound to witness a heated controversy in Yemen relating to women’s issues such as recruiting of women for police and security forces.
The more important restraint is created by those responsible for disbursing the foreign funding. They are many in Yemen and other Arab countries and are always increasing. Out of 3000 officially permitted civil organizations to practice their work in Yemen, only two of them managed in the past period to prove their efficiency. Even stranger is the fact that some ministries and government institutions have been squandering foreign funds they receive for bogus projects. Many instances can be cited in this unhealthy situation but we will mention just one example. Two weeks ago the Higher Teachers Institute for training of the Ministry of Education organized a seminar on population and development. The items listed on the agenda were very important but as far as the time for implementation was concerned, only two working papers included the needed information and facts and the other papers were vague.
Even the management of the seminar confirmed how the group responsible for the activity was so keen to misappropriate the funds. The group got involved in bargaining with researchers and participants and usually ended up sharing the amounts. Against these two situations and under such circumstances, it is beyond any doubt that those working in fields of developing the civil society or its activities, are in need of help. On our part we ask the parties concerned to take into consideration two significant factors.
The first one is drawing up a relevant policy to clarify the general objectives of any proposal financed by foreign parties. We are quite certain that holding a dialogue beforehand on the aims to be adopted would inevitably lead to a common understanding and then guarantee the protection of the interests of the organizers. The more important thing is how to decrease the volume of corruption accompanying activities having ambiguous objectives.
The second important matter is the adoption of executive means depending on collective work. This is a new and modern style currently being experienced by the British OXFAM organization after a long experiment involving a study of transparency of the receiving organization.
By reliance on experts and skilled people, and more significantly by pursuing principles of international transparency in spending and identifying areas on which to spend, the restraints of the civil works in Yemen would be eased. And as long as we guarantee continuance of the movement, we have to feel optimistic about its future.