In Yemen, can reforms reinstate values? (3/3) [Archives:2005/878/Opinion]

September 19 2005

In essence, we have seen that the problem of reforms in Yemen can be explained as follows: 1) Reforms are intended to correct previous mistakes of the Government, by means of issuing legislations or canceling rules or decrees that were previously and mistakenly issued by the Government without studying the consequences of such decisions.

2) Reforms are not fully undertaken, when they tend to interfere with some well placed narrow interests or which could dilute some of the authorities enjoyed by well-placed government officials.

3) Reforms do not take into account fully getting mechanisms in place that deal with the horrible corruption that has been allowed to evolve over the last three decades and thus one seldom hears of any government official facing charges and indictment for corruption or misuse of publics assets or funds.

4) Meaningful and positive reform efforts, such as the unity agreement and the Document of Reconciliation and Accord signed by all the political factions in February 1994 were shelved or not given the chance to be implemented, which could have truly set in sound procedures and measures for good governance and a real democratic orientation for the future of Yemen.

5) Continuous internal political squabbling and violence has often hampered the ability to establish stability that is very essential for implementing any reform agenda and led to further squandering of public funds.

Accordingly, it would seem difficult to believe that under the present circumstances any reforms can be effective since the political will is really not there to get meaningful reforms in place. Moreover, the public has become farther away from influencing political decisions, as the government continues its tight control of the political arrangements in the country, and vested interests have become further entrenched in the influence of political and economic decision-making levels of authority. Thus, one cannot expect that any reform agenda will really have an effect on improving the lot of the Yemeni people in general, or providing the suitable environment needed to re-stimulate the economy and attract investments.

On the other hand, with out the stability and law and order that are essential for any economy to vibrate, tourism and other viable economic sectors will not be able to generate the economic growth that will help create jobs and attract investments. With so many Yemenis overseas ready and willing to funnel a significant portion of their earnings for investments at home, one really should be wondering why Yemen is finding it so hard to even attract this important potential source of capital and expertise that is now lost to the nation. The obvious reason for this is that no one, even if Yemenis are ready to put their money in high risk investments that do not have sufficient guarantees to insure that the capital can be retained, let alone be assured of achieving substantive returns.

Furthermore, one is rather surprised that the donors have realty been ineffective in getting the real effective reforms that will get the country out of its present abyss, and it is not clear whether this comes out of a poor knowledge of what the real situation is like in Yemen or political arithmetic that, for the most part, does not take into consideration the effects of the present conditions in Yemen on the overall population of the country.

For all intents and purposes, one can surmise, that in Yemen, the people at large have lost all the avenues that could have allowed them to have an effect on stimulating the economy, either by means of participating in the drawing up of plans and strategies for development or in accumulating savings that they could use to invest in their own private enterprise schemes. Yemen is still without an effective broad based financial securities market, although there has been talk about it for decades. The economy is still under the control of family trading operations that have their niches in the decision making process and they are not keen on really releasing some of the monopolistic hold they have to broader based private companies that a stock market can help to evolve. On the other hand, it is no secret that many leading officials have also established controlling interests in many of the investment and trading establishments that are active in the economy. This could be one of the major obstacles to real reforms getting beyond the glossy reports issued by the various government agencies involved in the reform process.

An important area that was supposed to have helped stimulate the economy was the Aden Duty Free Port. But to date there has been no significant accomplishments in terms of its effect on either attracting investments or creating job opportunities for large numbers of people. Political and security factors may have been at play in hampering the results expected from the port, although much investment has been channeled there. But there are other underlying issues, such as bureaucratic procedures and lack of attractive facilities that can truly make the port an important promising economic stimulant.

In the end, the reforms in Yemen will not boil down to anything unless there is a real strong political will to bring back some of the participatory elements of governance to the people, facilitate access to the resources and facilities that will allow people to find their right niches in the economy, whether as productive employees or investors. In summary, this means the government will simply have to start relinquishing some of the awesome powers it has accumulated over the years at the expense of hampering the people's absolute right to enjoy the fruits of the once bountiful resources that are available, but they now have no access to. This also means that the Government will have to start assessing itself by means of evaluating the tangible results of its past mistakes (after of course admitting them). The major area of attention should be to determine where does the country stands now on values, which have become so diluted that they are almost out of place in all the levels of the society, especially in government, which is supposed to set the ground rules by which the society is functioning. Accordingly, it appears that reforms in Yemen will continue to revolve in a vicious circle.