Invitations are not enough [Archives:2005/814/Viewpoint]

February 7 2005

The other day, I was talking with a friend at the foreign Ministry. We were discussing the issue of economic development. In the meeting, that took place in a reception at one of the embassies of a European country, he argued foreign investors don't know about the great potential the country has to offer. “Foreign investors should come and invest in Yemen. We need to invite them over because there is great potential.” he said.

I responded by saying that it is important for us to provide the right environment first. I tried to tell him that wishful thinking has nothing to do with what we are facing on the ground.

“Look at the hundreds of investment cases pending in courts. Look at the complaints, at the bureaucracy, the corruption, the weak infrastructure, the taxes and customs, and the obstacles that they are facing,” I said with some frustration.

It is pathetic to see how most officials call to investors within and outside of the country, only to have those investors face a miserable reality on the ground. What is even more pitiful is that most officials don't realize the degree of competition in the region and continue to fool themselves that Yemen's potentials are real, and the others are mere decorations.

When I described the successful experience of Dubai, some of our officials picture it as a hollow economy that will blow up one day. On the other hand they think businesses that will succeed are in Yemen only. This thinking is common place in closed governmental circles and is dragging the country's ambitions and hopes down.

“What is it that the others have that we don't?” asks my official friend who wants to say that Yemen has much greater attractions. But, in my opinion, the fact that places like Dubai have started from scratch, with the exception of its oil revenues, is its source of pride. Meanwhile, a country like Yemen, with all its natural resources, beautiful terrains, excellent climate, and diverse and intelligent working force is falling behind in all aspects.

In the meeting, I tried to explain that the ball is mainly in our court. We need to establish a proper environment where the government should think of the importance of making investors successful and satisfied. We need to ensure the success of investors and businessmen in Yemen, and not only give licenses or invitations.

Furthermore, we need to develop an infrastructure that is capable of coping with the requirements of today. We have to invest heavily on the basis to build upon at a later stage.

It currently is the responsibility of our decision-makers to ensure that investors are given the opportunity to work in a clean, transparent, effective, and friendly environment. Only when investors are encouraged by action – not mere talk – will we see a growing number of businessmen who would like to call this country their home.

Instead of thinking of direct profit from taxes and fees from investors, our government must concentrate on the long-term results of the success of investors in Yemen. Once those investors feel happy and satisfied and make good profit, they would automatically market Yemen on their own.

Will our authorities realize this for the sake of the country's economic future? Let's hope so.