It Is Time to Stop Waste [Archives:1999/41/Focus]

October 11 1999

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
One of the major characteristics of good government and a civilized society is the efficiency in the use of the resources available to it and in the optimal use thereof without any needless waste or disregard for the need to sustain that use for as long as possible. In looking at the way our government has functioned, for literally decades now, and the way the society has behaved, perhaps in line with the way the government seems to follow in the use of its resources, it is clear that we have much to learn about how to competently make the maximum use of these resources. The truth of the matter is that we are horrendously wasteful, as a government and a society and surely we tend to disregard that these resources are both scarce and irreplaceable. We (as a government and a society) have surely shown a great sense of irresponsibility in managing these available resources and behave as though we have an infinite tapline to these resources. We waste everything: money, food, water, oil, gas, paper, etc. Moreover, we tend to fail to realize that there will be future generations of Yemenis who will be deprived of any of the resources that God, Al-Mighty has blessed the land with.
Surely this must end, or fairly soon we will find ourselves, in our own lifetimes, unable to harness any resources for our own needs and the needs of the society, although we could have taken the appropriate measures that would have made such resources readily available to meet our basic needs and the needs of generations to come. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the government itself is the worst entity in the land in managing the not so ample resources it has available to it. We have seen the government, over the decades, throw money left and right to needless causes and political adventures that bear no fruit, and without any professional adherence to budgetary control and monetary adherence to deriving value for expended funds, which entails financial as well as social returns that are tangible and meaningful. Moreover, the government’s use of public funds and assets is not subject to any regulation, control and accountability. Thus, we have a public treasury that is the victim of wanton misuse and misappropriation of badly needed and scarce funds to serve a real public interest and to provide the normal services that are expected of government, that seemed to have vanished as the years passed by, without anyone in the government caring or even seeking to find answers as to why the government has reached such impotency. This being despite the ample funds it collects from the hundreds of levies that it has rightfully or unjustly imposed on the increasingly poorer society whose poverty is due, in great part, to such official and unofficial levies – and the billions of dollars, which the government has received as donor support for its “development” schemes and in fulfillment of social needs. Yet there is no transparency in the government’s financial management and there is no accountability to those who are responsible for such pathetic disregard for the minimal sound principles of fiscal and financial management. We see billions of riyals thrown into political maneuvers that serve no real tangible political purpose, in terms of protecting the active rights of the population to political empowerment and autonomous self-rule for the day to day management of public affairs. On the contrary, such political maneuvers tend to make a mockery of the entire political democratic process and tend to ridicule the intellect of the general population. On the other hand, such political maneuvers have become an exploitative angle for political opportunists to enhance their own materialistic ambitions and to fulfill their ever spongy craving for amassing the greatest amount of wealth at the expense of not only the current generation of Yemenis, but of the generations to come as well. We see hundreds of billions of riyals thrown into projects of deadmeat significance, many of which are left without the appropriate funding that will operate and maintain such projects, in order to insure their viability and functional continuity at least for those projects that do have a functional and a usable attribute. We can find many hundreds of assets in the warehouses of the ministries and the public sector enterprises that are just left to sunbathe and become victims of climatic erosion, sometimes even for projects that have yet to close, never mind that their loans have yet to be repaid! Who is responsible for such waste and when will it end? Of course, the donors are not ignorant of these facts, and it is only fair to stress that they have pointed out time and again to the government that such horrendous waste of resources is not exactly what they had in mind when providing these funds. Moreover, it is only fair to state that the donors have, time and again provided and offered to provide all the technical assistance required by the government in the proper management of these assets, but again the government insists that the only way to overcome the problem is by carrying on with its perpetual policy of waste and pilferage of these resources, by adding more projects and deadmeat so that the ministers and other senior officials can stand in front of the television cameras to lay down foundation stones and cut ribbons for the “inauguration” of projects, the components of which will eventually turn to scrap and rust within a few years, to be only replaced by additional deadmeat, on the grounds that the older projects have decayed and the project is important “politically”. Moreover the insistence of the government on maintaining control and management of these projects, without transferring ownership and responsibility of running them, after they have been completed, to the beneficiaries themselves is clearly a deliberate intention of preventing the sound operational management of these projects, just so the officials can still bleed as much as they can from the appropriations needed to manage and operate these projects – which they fail to do anyway, although the appropriations are allocated! Eventually such allocations are reduced just to meet the salaries of the overstaffing that has arisen to keep these projects “viable”.
While much more can be said about government waste of resources, it goes without saying that such “waste culture” has filtered down to the population itself. This of course is not a general social attribute, but rather is prevalent among those who have managed to amass great wealth, legally and illicitly, as they compete amongst themselves to display the extravagance of their wealth and the limitless ability to spend on fruitless social extravaganzas like weddings, circumcisions, and what have you, to assure that they do not become the object of social ridicule of not paying a hundred thousand riyals for a singer that cannot sing or for an overdose of make-up for the bride, by untrained coiffures and “make up artists”, whose work would make Christian d’Or and Armany fumigate if they had a chance to see the masterpieces made on the faces of these poor brides. Yet, because of our disregard for good taste, “social rules” dictate that our poor brides become the victims of these consumer sponges that have evolved in our society, which used to manage such functions with the minimal burdens on the families and without any sign of social inequity with a great amount of taste and simplicity. Yet, we carry on. Look at our affluence in construction. How many rooms does a family need and how much decoration can we put into a house. But we have given up on the idea of building roofs over our heads. We now must build several ceilings above our heads and we must build a separate bathroom, not just for each member of the family, but for each limb and organ! Look at all those sumptuous palaces and their adornments, which would make Haroun Al-Rashid and the great pharaohs turn in their graves if they see the kind of residence that are sprawling in the south side of Sana’a and elsewhere in the country. What is distressing even more, is that all this affluence is being exercised, and diligently adhered to, by none other than the senior government officials and the social dignitaries who have yet to answer the question: where did all that wealth come from, and how much taxes have been paid on all the income, legal and illicit, they have obtained?
It is well known by Moslems that waste of money and resources is prohibited in Islam and, surely, the Prophet Mohammed (and the other prophets before him, peace and blessings of Allah be upon, them all), and his early disciples took great pains to set an example of the humility and trust that Moslems, especially at the forefront of the society, should painstakingly exercise. But then, hell is a vast welcoming abode, that eagerly waits all those who have forgotten what life is really all about!