Go to your local council! [Archives:2007/1101/Viewpoint]

November 8 2007

The Editorial Board
The Yemeni public has become used to complaining, as is apparent from opposition and government newspapers, thousands of qat chew sessions and the millions of conversations that take place throughout the country.

It's obvious that quality of life for many communities is deteriorating; economic hardship, unemployment and inflation are on the rise, while housing, quality education and healthcare services are becoming more scarce and expensive.

The realities of today's Yemen are progressively leading to a national emergency, a failed state and more civil unrest. Protests and organized social action in southern Yemen are a strong indicator of these realities.

Luckily, through its modest democratic development, Yemen has developed channels for communities to take matters into their own hands. Last year, Yemenis voted for candidates to represent them in their local councils at the district and governorate levels.

Yemen's legal and administrative system empowers local councils to take the lead in transforming their communities. It further spells out the means of financing council operations, as well as channeling local funds for reinvestment in the community.

As the nation's first example of self-government, local councils have the authority and responsibility to better their communities. Local councils in Sana'a, Hadramout and Taiz have adopted sound policies, while other such councils are a shameful extension of government corruption.

Unfortunately, the majority of local councils throughout the country have yet to rise to this level of responsibility. Instead, they either are stagnating and unaware of the tremendous responsibility they have toward their districts or they are unwilling to work hard enough to improve the quality of life and livelihoods of those who voted for them.

In these cases, it is citizens' role to contact their local councils and demand they renovate schools, equip health services, construct roads and establish water projects in their communities.

In turn, local councils then can contact the respective government agencies, raise funds and manage those projects required by their communities. Several local councils have done this successfully and their example is worth noting and duplicating nationwide.

Some gratitude goes to the donor community in Yemen, which has banded together to carry out a highly successful decentralization program under the administration of the United Nations Development Program in Yemen.

However, despite great success achieved thus far, the program is missing a publicity component, as Yemenis need to know where to direct their demands for better services. They must realize that local councils are responsible and accountable for the development – or underdevelopment – of their communities, and therefore should ensure that their local council does whatever it takes to improve their livelihood.

Local councils can play an important role in local development and they will play that role if their communities put pressure on them to do so.