“Corruption & Qat are Yemen’s Major Problems” Bureaucracy in Taiz Stalls German Health Project [Archives:2001/39/Reportage]
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
Six years ago, Anne Rappel, a German tourist, visited Yemen along with two other friends. They were subjected to a kidnapping attempt by armed tribesmen in Mudyah, Shabwa governorate. Their driver, Sadiq Abdulwahed al-Mikhlafi, was able to bear the trouble and escape the trap. The kidnappers fired at his car but he fled and saved his people at the risk of his life. They continued driving until they reached Sayoun in Hadhramaut. One of the tourists went back to Sana’a by plane. The other two went back with Sadiq through Aden and Taiz back to Sana’a. When they reached Taiz, Sadiq decided to go to his village in Al-Mikhlaf, 20 km north to Taiz to see his family, lest they be scared if they knew of the incident. The two German tourists decided to go with him to have a look at his village. When they were back in Sana’a, the German embassy had already arranged with the then Governor of Marib how to reward Sadiq. The embassy offered him DM 15,000 and that he would also be rewarded by the tourists himself. But, he refused. They asked him what he wanted. He said he needed their help in erecting a hospital for his poor people in the village of al-Mikhlaf. Here his trouble with the Ministry of Health starts.
Anne has said to me that she went back to Germany and asked her friends to help her establish a hospital. However, they told her she was crazy, as they did not have enough money to build a hospital. Furthermore, they already helped her by sending medicine to a hospital in Shabwa. However, they told her to open a bank account in the name of the village hospital of al-Mikhlaf and ask people contribute to the charitable project. Her friends promised to help her if the ideas went through. “I went to a newspaper in my home town and appealed to people to help,” Anne said. She added, “Some weeks later, I had about 35,000 marks. I took the money and went back to Yemen and started working in 1999.” Also, she said that the Social Development Fund (SDF) helped them a lot.
The hospital is now complete. It has 14 rooms, plus a flat for doctors and other facilities. The hospital is provided with advanced medical equipment from Germany. “It can carry out different kinds of medical operations and provide service to thousands of people in this poor area.” Sadiq said.
Anne said that presently around $250,000 has been channeled into the project. There are now two containers of medical equipment at Hodeidah port valued at $100, 000. The SDF paid the expenses for shipping them from Germany to Yemen. The first container, 40 feet, will go to the leprosy center and Mother’s Treza hospital in Taiz. The second one, 20 feet, is meant for al-Mikhlaf hospital. Sadiq said the total amount of the hospital can be put at YR 70 million. Of that amount, 10 million was contributed by the SDF. He said he himself spent 11 million out of his own pocket. He even sold some of his properties to complete the project.
What is the problem then?
Some people in the Taiz Health Office (THO) are not happy with the project being installed in al-Mikhlaf. Therefore, they have refused to provide it with medical staff. Also, it seems that the government officials and high ranking dignitaries in the area work to stall the project. “I was here last year. The officials at the THO promised to send us doctors, nurses, etc., but nothing has happened so far. I don’t know what the problem is. In Germany, we vote for people in elections as we believe they will work for us, not for themselves, but here it is different.”She summarizes our problems in Yemen in two plights. “I believe corruption and qat are the major headaches for you.” Anne said.
The THO sent a doctor to the hospital, but he was a very busy person working in different places. He came up to the hospital for a few weeks, and then went away. Another doctor came to the hospital and asked for a house for his family, a car, a bodyguard, and extra salary from Germany. He also wanted the people in al-Mikhlaf to bring his children to Taiz in the morning and bring them back in the evening. “I told them it was impossible to meet his requirements.” Then, he went away.
Later Sadiq was able to find an Iraqi doctor. He has been told by the THO officials to sign a contract with him, mentioning that he would give him a salary of $2000 for him and his wife, so that the government can make sure that he can stay in the country as he has got a job. They told Sadiq it would be just a formality. When he signed, the Iraqi doctor came and asked Sadiq to pay him a salary as mentioned in the contract, otherwise he would take him to the police. Sadiq managed to pay him $2000. The doctor took the money and went away.
“It is a shame that your government is not able to spend some money for the medical staff of the hospital”
The hospital is not operating now. It has no doctors. The people of THO want to take the hospital and run it themselves. “The people of al-Mikhlaf and I don’t want this, as I have seen many government hospitals in Taiz and Sana’a in a very poor situation. I never want to see the same situation in this hospital,” Anne said. “The former health minister has given us a letter, authorizing us to run the hospital. He promised to provide it with medical staff,” Sadiq observed.
Anne said that, “the next option the THO offered is that the hospital will be provided by medical staff on the condition that 60 % of the income of the hospital should be given to the THO.” It seems that these guys do not know that health service should be made free to all people in Yemen without exception.
The third alternative suggested by the THO is that it can be made private and the people of the village should manage everything themselves. “They are very poor. What shall they do?” Anne exclaimed, adding, “somebody in the THO told me that it was a shame to bring the hospital to al-Mikhlaf. But no! I told him that it is a shame that your government is not able to spend some money for the medical staff of the hospital.”
Dr. Ghurbani needs a plane to fly to al-Mikhlaf
Anne Rappel is struggling very hard to operate the hospital. She is running after our officials in the health ministry to beg for doctors for the hospital in al-Mikhlaf. She said she met the former minister of health, Dr. Abdullah Abdulwali Nasher, who accepted Sadiq al-Mikhlafi to be the manager for the hospital and promised to provide it with medical staff and medicine. She also met the new minister, Dr. Abdulnaser al-Munaibari, at his house in the presence of Dr. Abdulwahab al-Ghurbani, THO manager. The minister told her to fix everything with Dr. Ghurbani, but Ghurbani told her that the people of the village should create their own association to run the hospital. “I do not know what kind of association he wants,” Anne said. She added, “I told him that even if we make it private, his office should monitor what is going on. But he told me that he had no plane, no helicopter, no car, nor horse nor camel, to come up to the area. Then, I was very furious and went out of his office without even saying goodbye.”
Yemen needs honest rather than educated people
Anne also said that the new health minister refused to accept Sadiq as the manager of the hospital. “The minister told me that it is not good for Sadiq to be the manager, as he is not well-educated, but I believe he is the right person to run the hospital. I trust him. I told the minister that Yemen needs people like him. It is not important what kind of education they have. It is important that they are honest, want to work, and will work.” Anne said. She pointed out that Sadiq will not look after patients. He will only make sure that everybody is doing his job well. “He worked very hard to build the hospital without pocketing money. I saw his family before we started the work and now. The situation has not changed. He is even getting poorer as he sometimes has to pay from his own pocket. He has to sell things of his own to get money for the hospital. He even went to Germany and walked in streets in snow, begging people for money for the hospital,” Anne said.
“We will not give them the hospital. It is a reward for me. I can run the project, as I have a secondary certificate and I have taken training courses in Germany.” Sadiq said, adding, “The people of Sharaab now are establishing a charitable society. I can give the hospital to them to run. It is important that it works. The Germans promised to expand it if it works well.”Anne now feels very frustrated with our officials in the health ministry. She said she would contact them again. “If things do not work, I will go and speak to the German media about what is happening.” However, she said she felt very embarrassed to go back and tell her friends that the hospital is built now but it is not working because it has no doctors. The Germans can not pay even a single dollar for medical staff. “I got the money from different places including the German embassy in Sana’a. How can I explain to them the problem? They want to know what is happening,” she said.
Urgent appeal to PM & health minister
I do believe the problem here is clear – the THO is the stumbling block preventing the charitable project from working. I also believe their bureaucracy is a shame and crime for which they should be held accountable. They have given a clear-cut example to foreigners that corrupt and crooked people are the major headache of Yemen, stalling any effort for development. Our problem is not shortage of resources at all.
I think this story should cause all hell to break loose and invite the attention of PM and health minister. They should act and stop the farce of THO before such irresponsible behavior is publicized in the German media. Shame on these guys!