Fighting corruption needs courage [Archives:2004/748/Viewpoint]

June 21 2004

I was talking the other day with one of the Western ambassadors in Sanaa when he asked, “I truly wonder how the President of Yemen views the best way to tackle corruption.” It was a question that was raised not only by him, but by many Yemenis and foreigners alike. We have all asked about the proper means and ways to tackle corruption, but no clear cut answer was given.
But if we analyze the situation as a whole, we would come to the conclusion that corruption needs a lot of courage, determination, and follow up.
Let us take the example of corrupt employees in any government establishment. There are numerous claims that regular citizens cannot get their paper work done without bribing this or that employee. This is not an individual case, but rather a general phenomenon.
When asking employees why they do this, they simply give two straight excuses, the first is that their salaries are too low and are not sufficient for survival, and the second is that they look at their bosses and higher management and take them as their models.
Hence, the issue starts not with employees, but with upper management. For each and every individual government institution, the minister or general manager should be the first to abide by the law and be clean and honest. Then he should set the example to others. The other step is to ensure that sufficient funds are allocated as salaries to employees in different ranks. This will probably remove 90% of the causes of corruption in the institution in question.
But then there is another issue.
What about supreme officials that are not in government, but rather in posts linked to the President. Don't those need to be accountable and honest?
The question here could only be answered by the President. He is the one to hold them accountable, make sure they don't interfere in issues they should not be involved in, and guarantee that they are punished if they exceed their limits or rights.
But in the extreme cases when those individuals point to the President and say that it was him who let them do what they did for so long, this also has a cure.
I believe the President would tolerate my words when I say that some do blame him for a large portion of corruption in the country for what they say is his flexibility in dealing with corrupt figures and not applying swift and strong actions against them when caught red-handed.
There could have been cases in which corruption was evident even at the presidential level. This is possible and it happens everywhere in the world. But that doesn't mean that our President cannot start all over again. Let it be a new beginning.
If he starts today then it is better than tomorrow, and if he starts tomorrow it would be better than the day after.
We have faith in that reforms in the hierarchy from top to bottom should be a healthy step forward, and it is not a shame to admit to wrong doings committed in the past. We all commit mistakes as we are all human beings, and the President is not an exception. But what we should now focus on is to build a future free of corruption and that requires a strong and courageous decision coming from above.
I believe our President would be highly honored and respected for a decision to use harsh punishments against those who are found to have been corrupt. He can begin by announcing a date after which tough measures will be taken against corrupt officials, and these measures will be strong up to possible levels of imprisonment and high fines.
I am sure that such a courageous decision will be taken, and I am sure our President has the courage to take it. It will only be a matter of time.