Is local authority governance diminishing? [Archives:2006/951/Reportage]

June 1 2006

By: Mohamed Ragih
Establishing any authority would necessarily cause a qualitative change in any community adopting a democratic option for local administration. It changes many administrative concepts pursuant to a program that focuses on the local community development, depending on the administrative and economic principles.

However, administrative units are more than a governor, a mayor or an elected local council. They are a system of complicated human relations that could go far beyond this. It is an economic, social development in addition to capacity building. It is the establishment of a new situation, which requires skills and knowledge that in turn need require the capacity for building. It also needs promotion of social awareness and training.

Concepts of structure

Like many developing country, Yemen is seeking to achieve a sustainable development. Yet undertaking local authority systems was an early desire dating back to the days of the establishment of reunification. It was considered a rational governmental method that promotes public democratic participation through free local elections, meeting the local community demands, and calling for local elected institutions accountable before their electoral assemblies.

For a long time a legal framework that regulated the structure was missing until Law 4 of the year 2000 furnished it. This law set up a foundation for the decentralization of economic and administrative systems. The establishment of local governance was implemented in 2001 the following year. A media clamor accompanied it internally, with an international interest and support, considering it an expansion of public participation and the important step in decision-making it implied. It is also a contribution of the activation of local social, economic, developmental and cultural affairs through elected councils. However, these councils were expected to set their investment plans, programs and budgets. The local councils were also supposed to play their role in monitoring conformity with their establishment law and the commitments to the international community. The councils should have monitored their executive institutions in their districts and governorates and brought them to account.

Jobless councils

Six years elapsed with seemly no role for the local councils. These in fact diminished and became an additional burden to the local community and the country in general. According to field research and statistics, the local councils did not practice any activities nor did they introduce services or development projects of any kind. They did not even set budgets for local development.

Executive council meetings were effectively poor. Their rate was only 24 percent in 2002. They were very low in 2003 as well with only 26 percent. As for 2004 and 2005, they did not exceed 40 percent. This indicates a lack of agendas for the work of these councils. They reflect the central inattention, which neglected their awareness role. They should have provided their branches with the necessary advice in the fields of local system. It reveals the weak performance of control and follow up systems set-up in the governorates and within high authorities in the center.

Failure of the fourth conference

The development plans sector in the ministry of planning and development, issued a report reviewing the third fifth-plan of the local development of 2006-2010. It assessed the local councils' performance as lacking infrastructures with incompleted institutions. The local authority's capacity and skills in planning and follow up are limited. Their strategic perspective in setting local development priorities is attributed to an absence of coordination with development partners and the central systems.

This indicates that the establishment of these local councils, which received a large portion of the donors and international organizations support, were not based on institutional and people perspectives. There were no laws or statutes that organize them. Democratic performance was also absent which resulted in the loss of public support. The fourth conference of the local councils, scheduled to convene last month, was postponed for these very reasons: weak performance and the abstinence of donors to pay the annual support for them in addition to preparations for presidential elections.

Mohamed Ragih is a Yemeni journalist.