GOOD GOVERNANCE: The Need to Re-Train Our Politicians for the 21st Century [Archives:1997/41/Viewpoint]

October 13 1997

Throughout most of the world, there is a trend. It has to do with raising the efficiency of managing public affairs. The catch phrase is ‘good governance’. The concept of good governance entails many important values which should integral to the system – all of which are destined to be the hallmark of the new century. These include effective grass-roots participation in public affairs, decentralization, integrity of the system, civil service reform, the rule of law and order, checks and balances, accountability and transparency. Here in Yemen, the situation is no different. We are part of this worldwide trend, or so we say. Our politicians speak of the need to improve the efficiency of managing public affairs. There is talk about decentralization, but we have seen none; there is talk of raising the level of integrity of the system, but what we see is more corruption; there is talk of civil service reform, but that is still a non-starter; there are promises of law and order, but what we have is more lawlessness; etc. So, the situation in Yemen is more promises. It is as if our officials talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.
To improve governance in Yemen, there is clear need for re-training our officials. We need the people in charge to really believe in the need for change in the way they manage public affairs. They need to accept new values, such as:
1. To accept a distinct role for the three authorities (executive, legislative, judicial). Here in Yemen, parliament is utterly weak. In reality, most of those who are in the present parliament are there because of ‘help’ from the executive branch of authority. In other words, they did not earn their seats. As for the judicial branch of authority, it is so hopelessly corrupt and inefficient that it cannot stand its own ground.
2. To accept political pluralism in a real way. Unfortunately for Yemen, the country today is far less pluralistic than it was a few years ago. In other words, one can easily feel the preponderant dominance of the People’s General Congress, creating a vacuum on the other side of the equation. This is partly because no political party can really muster any meaningful public support unless it has the resources of the state at its disposal.
3. To accept the watchdog role of a media not under state control. The state has monopoly over the television and radio stations. For a country that has a 60% illiteracy, this is far more effective than the written media. But even in the written media, the state controls more than 75% of the newspapers and magazines. As if this situation is not bad enough, the importance of public opinion is very marginal in our ‘democracy’.
4. To accept the input of grass-roots level organizations, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), including unions, cooperatives, syndicates, etc. These are now controlled, or at least influenced by the state. The politicians have effectively infiltrated these NGOs and rendered them almost paralyzed.
In the final analysis, it is in the hands of the people in charge of this country to make our transformation towards democracy real and meaningful. It would unfortunate if the change in Yemen remains merely a show or something superficial. Our politicians need to believe in preparing for the 21st century. To do that, they have to internalize some new values.

Pro. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf  Editor-in-Chief and Publisher