Local governance & election-oriented media [Archives:2008/1157/Opinion]
By: Nazzar Al-Abbadi
States and governments usually learn from the experiences of other nations while preparing to make decisions in any area. But, as the Yemeni state took a hasty decision to elect governors, and began executing the decision, its Ministry of Local Administration should not have sent the deputy minister and three undersecretaries to France to know about the European country's experience with regard to local governance.
Compared to the experiences of other countries such as Britain and the United States, the French experience in local governance is not considered the most ideal example for Yemen's Ministry of Local Administration to make it the topmost option during its search for relevant experience.
Although Minister of Local Administration Abdulqader Ali Helal confirmed that his ministry has been well-prepared for governor election for a considerable time period prior to taking the decision. Up until the moment, there is no control room in the ministry that has 8 undersecretaries and 16 assistant undersecretaries, plus a ministerial council and an advisor board.
A few days ago, the ministry distributed a press release declaring the launch of a website related with elections and opening a media center. Seemingly, Minister of Local Administration doesn't know that his ministry has an already designed website on the governmental electronic network, for the establishment of which the Ministry of Telecommunication received up to YR 45 million.
The Ministry of Local Administration's website is empty without even a single letter being uploaded despite the fact that three years have passed since the governmental electronic network was launched. The strangest thing is that Hilal did not find any of his advisors to tell him that launching a website one week ahead of the votes is useless, if not a waste of time and effort for two reasons.
The first reason is that introducing a new website to the public may take at least one year while the second is that drawing people's attention toward the election will be seen as one of the phases preceding the electoral process, which implies that such a website will be short-lived and disappear as gubernatorial elections are over, according to people's expectations.
A few days ago, I tried to enter the new media center to suddenly meet a Yemeni Satellite Channel team who used to work as if they are pre-paid cell phones. And since the matter is promotional, those in charge of the center did not get enough staff to fill the vacant seats in the center.
In the meantime, most of the Yemeni journalists don't frequent any place unless they are sure that the relevant cashier is available to give them ransoms in exchange for covering any event. I found no journalists except for me, the hard-working reporter Abdulhamid Al-Shara'abi, working for Yemen News Agency and one of those in charge of the newly established media center.
Unfortunately, I got no chance to speak before the T.V. camera although I requested that for being a representative of an independent press. Following shooting of the science, I denounced what happened, telling those around me that governor election doesn't only concern the authority but all Yemeni people.
I reiterated that it is time we have to improve our living standards, democracy and press freedom, but I was surprised to see one of the media center officers preventing me to say my critical words. He ironically asked me, “Is it possible for you to speak this way in Iraq?” I then felt compelled to leave the center.
I hoped that Minister of Local Administration thinks about visiting such a media center and setting on one of its computers. All the center's computers, without an exception, are full of viruses, and the staff tried to remove virus warning boxes on the computer screens in order to work but could not do anything. Even the keyboards' languages were either Chinese or English.
In order to escape this scandal, the center staff put transparent sticks with Arabic letters to the keyboards, but because the sticks are transparent and the keyboards are black, things get confused. The Arabic letters assimilated with the Chinese and English ones.
Away from office equipment, the media committee in the relevant ministry has not yet completed design of a sample card for election observers, a task that may not take more than an hour elsewhere. We in Nabanews.net made a request on May 3 to participate in monitoring the elections in six governorates. We commuted to the Ministry several times in the early morning, in the afternoon and at other times in search of a response to our request but all the efforts have gone awry.
Regretfully, the ministry dealt with the media in a way implying that gubernatorial election concerns the government only while the media and people have nothing to do with the matter.