Fundamentals on corruption [Archives:2003/641/Opinion]

June 12 2003

Not that this matter has not been dealt with by this observer and many other writers and even politicians, but we really must get to a clear understanding that the issue of corruption should not just be a talking matter. In fact, the phenomenon has dealt a severe blow to our aspirations for development and for luring any investment, foreign or local into the economy. The most serious problem associated with corruption is that everyone knows it exists, everyone dreads its existence, everyone sees its results right before our very eyes: in the extravagant housing of many government officials, and in the great social and economic gaps developing in our society. But beyond that, there has never been any serious effort to make it clear that it is impossible to have a properly functioning government, if corruption is allowed to reign supreme in all the functions of government. One observer once noted: “our government was the only body politic where corruption has been implanted as a cardinal rule of public administration and not merely an issue of a few exceptions here and there”. The late famous poet and literary personality of Yemen, Abdullah Al-Baraddoni (who was incidentally blind) once wrote in 26 September Newspaper that “the worst corruption that ever existed throughout history is found in Yemen now”.
Maybe the fact that all of Yemen's government institutions are relatively new and the many years of political instability that have come and gone over the last fifty years or so created an environment that nurtured the seeds of corruption, but then again the more obvious fact is that letting corruption slide by without any form of deterrence or punitive action is really a more palatable reason. Others claim that it was the deprivation of so many centuries of despotic rule interlaced with periods of anarchy and foreign occupation that have interlaced the history of Yemen, but then again, if we know that a problem exists and all these excuses are now simply history, should we not also begin to set our house in order, now that the appropriate legislations and institutions are in place. Surely, one remembers the cassette tapes during the elections, with the political parties showing off their flare for turning national folklore into political tit for tat against each other and each party trying to outdo the other in showing their nationalist loyalty and their determination to wipe out corruption if their candidates are elected. One is also aware that these parties did have candidates and officials, who were in positions that one would expect would be solid grounds for them to be able to display real meaningful efforts to clean up at least their areas. But the truth is that once in office, it all goes back to “business as usual”, making sure that their cut in the cake is not grabbed by someone else.
Because corruption is so widespread in Yemen, there is sadly a widespread sense of acceptance now that evil is the only way to go if you want to go anywhere in this world. In fact, the danger is deeper, because widespread poverty and destitution has overtaken the society – largely due to the existence of corruption – the situation has made evil to some become a necessity for survival, let alone making it in this world. In other words, corruption is indeed eating at the moral fabric of our society and unless it is checked now, we can never really hope to expect that the future holds any real potential for development and equitable improvement in the standards of living of the people of Yemen. Yes, we can speak of our spiritual and traditional adherence to a solid moral conscientiousness. But the spectacles of extravagance and overindulgence by so many in our society, who have found their niche in the well entrenched network, or networks of corruption in our government, business and even social regimes are bound to ferment seeds of discontent and disapproval among the majority of the population, who truly wish to live honest and incorruptible lives.
Yes, we agree with the Prime Minister (and the President) that corruption must be faced. We only hope that such high level recognition of the seriousness of the matter can be translated into meaningful steps to: Enforce strict civil service honor codes and legislations that will put the corrupt behind bars, or at least out of government. Institute rigid financial and administrative controls that deter the weak from thinking that the government treasury is an “all you can grab” pot for the “clever” public servants, who will later repent for their wrongdoings by building a mosque or a school and handing out meager peanuts on holidays to the poor that line up their palatial gates on holidays. Make government more transparent by letting the public know a little more about government finance and from where its funds are coming from and where are they going. It all boils down to these fundamental principles, if we really have any hope of putting back the values we truly adhere to where they should be. It is not enough to adhere to values if they cannot be translated to real concrete steps that will show that we have no place for evil in our society, especially in government.