From one Cabinet to the next [Archives:2007/1042/Opinion]

April 16 2007

The observer would really like to say for once that the recent Cabinet change in the Republic of Yemen really means that, at last, for once we are really moving on the right track to responsible government that is accountable to the people and only to the people and not any other entity, except the Divine. But one is not prone to believe that the new and old names in the recent Cabinet reshuffle would entail any significant achievements would be realized, unless inspired by heavenly revelation that we now have long ago stopped coming down with the coming of Islam.

This is not to say that the new Cabinet does not have some promising names in it or capable bureaucrats, known for their loyalty to their country and proven in their professional capabilities. But the observer is inclined to believe that ministerial stature in this country tends to limit the designates rather than to free them to carry out their responsibilities to the best of their ability. There is no secret to the widespread belief that for all their professional and academic credentials, ministers and even the Prime Minister are helpless when it comes to any undertaking that challenges the awesome authority of the higher echelons in the Executive Branch, which still maintains an absolute veto power over any decisions of all the other branches of authority in Government.

The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen does indeed insist on a division of authority and a balance of power between the Legislative (the people), the Judicial (the source of legal jurisprudence) and the Executive (in the Yemeni context, the military, tribal and the mercantile establishment). However, it would be naive to really believe that this important constitutional blessing is anywhere near being a reality we can truly say governs the proceedings of government. In fact, this has not materialized at any interval of Yemeni history, whether as a monarchy, a radical totalitarian regime (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen; or formerly South Yemen), or even in the seemingly righteous Yemen Arab Republic, all of which were in turn succeeded finally by the once hopeful blessing of the Republic of Yemen. In his memoirs, the former Prime Minster on several occasions, Mohsin Al-Ainy (who might have been the only PM in Yemeni history, who had some inkling as to the power of resorting to the people when the going gets tough in the Cabinet, to a certain extent), in detail, showed that the Prime Minister of Yemen is probably the weakest government line official on Earth. He has no real power in deciding who his subordinates will be. He has no power in developing a program that will, in any way, conflict with the vested interests that have taken root in the government and the social fabric of the society. He has no power to overrule any of the other powers that really control his branch of Government authority. In fact, in most cases, he is designated with the subordinates already lined up as his designators would only have it, unless the newly designated ministers have their own personal outlook not in line with the designators wishes [as was seen in the former Minister (of a few months' duration) of Finance's feeling of demotion when reassigned to a less lucrative position}. Perhaps, the latter hasn't realized that Government in Yemen is no more than a game of musical chairs and the real losers are, as always, the people of this helpless country that has succumbed to the designs, wishes and ABUSES of authorities that they have no control over. More than that, one is not at all reluctant to state that in Yemen, Government continues to run without any transparency to speak of and more important, without any accountability for poor performance or abuse of power. Oh sure, we have all the glossy literature that tries to depict that we have all the legal framework and institutions in place that will assure the citizens and the concerned elements of the international community that all the latter are existent and operating in Yemen. The truth of the matter is that Government in Yemen remains the possession of those, who are able to impose their will on the citizens of the country and all the apparatus of Government, without question and without accountability. The people know this well and have given up hope, no matter how many times the record player is turned on for the next batch of Ministers to take their seats.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.