Here is Where to Start From! [Archives:2001/16/Viewpoint]

April 16 2001

Last week, I felt some sort of sincerity in the new ministers. Most, but not all, ministers realized that they are being put to test and the whole nation is watching their performance. However, interestingly enough, I realized that some of them are still confused and do not know where to start. “The problems are tremendous. I can see that the burden is too heavy. The challenges are enormous here and there. Even though I have not yet settled down, I find myself opening a Pandora’s box, in the ministry’s files that include unlimited problems and troubles.” This is what one of the ministers said when I visited him at his office to congratulate him on his new post and encourage him to strive to accomplish the ‘change’ we expect from him.
I will not be surprised if I hear that many ministers have already become frustrated. They simply have too many problems to deal with, but have limited time and the clock is ticking. This is why I dedicate this column to the main question they are asking. “Where should we start from?”
I know that it is not an easy issue to deal with. It is a problem, a huge problem and I can understand the frustration of the new ministers who feel that they will be responsible if the conditions do not improve. As such they are aware that every step has to be taken extremely carefully which will make a great difference.
Before I express my own opinion about where to start, I need to explain to all the ministers that if they want to do any good, they should first of all look after the issues of the public. The people and their responses to the ministers’ actions are the ones which will decide whether they have done well or not. The people now have the impression that ministers are corrupt. Even if this is not the case, they always get the feeling that whoever comes to the post of the minister is a ‘corrupt’ individual. So, the first step is to erase this belief. There are many ways to do so. First the minister should not accept the armed guards, and the lavish cars offered by the ministry. Some may think that this is not a serious issue. But according to my experiences, and the comments Yemen Times gets from the people, I believe this should indeed be the first step. For example, If a new minister used to had a 1990 decent Mercedes before being a minister, he does not need to shift to the luxury 2001 Land Cruiser with 4 or more armed escorts. Nothing forces him to do so. He can even refuse the extra cars and escorts. This will be a major indication that he intends to be a ‘clean’ minister with humble attitudes.
The second step is to make a tour of the ministry. He should visit all departments, meet all the employees, and check the different offices in the ministry. He can then see if the employees are available or are out of the office. He should also make sure that they realize he is different from his predecessor. He should explain that he will make frequent visits to the different departments without prior notice. The next step should be to get the feedback from ordinary citizens concerned with the ministry. He should ask about the obstacles, whether bribes have become a necessary evil, whether employees treat them roughly, and how do they assess the schedule and attendance of employees, etc.
Then he should hold a meeting with the heads of the different departments and explain to them the overall strategies of the ministry in general. The main points to be explained are that the minister concerned hates corruption and corrupt employees, and will deal with them severely if he finds out about any corrupt incidents. He of course must follow his words with deeds to show that he is not joking. A few incidents and punishments should be enough to prove that he means business.
All of the above steps are easy to take and show a lot of commitment for change. However, what is more important is that all of the above steps be part of a complete plan for reform and change. Continuation is another issue. The minister must always be alert and make sure that the ones responsible in the ministry will do their job well even if he is not around. Having a few honest reporters as watch dogs is also beneficial.
I hope that these steps will be considered by our new ministers, wishing them luck in their tough and extremely challenging start.