Local Governance Law: Can it Voice the Interests of the People?! [Archives:1999/41/Law & Diplomacy]

October 11 1999

By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi, 
Managing Editor, Yemen Times 
There are two main topics that dominated the panorama of events in Yemen for the last week. Both are of crucial and broad importance and contribute significantly to lead us triumphantly to the next millennium of the the global context. As a matter of fact, these two questions voice our aspirations for a better tomorrow. These issues are the local governance law and change in the government. 
1- Local Governance Question 
Local governance is actually one of the virtues of a democratic system as it marks the end of centralization. To drive the point home, in the culture of democracy, decentralizing government enables people to participate more directly in governance process and can help empower people previously excluded from decision-making. In this way we can create and sustain equitable opportunities for all people. In addition, closer contact between government officials and local communities and organizations also encourages the exchange information that can be used to formulate development programs that are tailored to local needs and priorities, and thus are more effective and sustainable. In short, local governance results in a sustainable growth in a society. 
On the basis of the importance of decentralization and local governance as crucial elements in any democratic country, the Yemeni parliament kicked off the discussion and debating of the draft law of local governance, which had been presented to the parliament several times but its discussions had been delayed since the Yemeni Unification in 1990. The law represents a critical issue that embraced the interest of most of the Yemeni intellectual elite. These luminaries hold an opinion that the law is one of the pillars of building the long-aspired modern civil society. Furthermore, the law will set free all the dormant faculties of the people and ends up the time of bureaucratic and centralized governance. The law will also hand over the power to the people to handle their own local affairs and administration by themselves. In other words, it will broaden the people’s participation in administering their own affairs and directly supervising the application of laws. The people, moreover, will be bestowed the right to step down any person not voicing their interests and realizing their aspirations. Thus, the people’s satisfaction in the work of political system will define whether it is legitimate or not. 
A heated debating among the Yemeni parliamentarians was made last week. They agreed that the chiefs of the local councils should come to authority through elections. But the focal point of differences was whether the governors and directors of districts are to be elected or appointed. Some parliamentarians including the religious and dogmatic caucus of the Islah Party in the parliament argued that elections should be held at all levels. That is, governors, directors of districts and chiefs of local councils should be all nominated directly by the people. But the second group including the tribal wing in the Islah caucus in the parliament held a different opinion. They argued that we should not over-step our realities; if we take too much in one bite, we may not be able to chew it up. In other words, we should go step by step in our democratic process; we should first elect our local councils chiefs and then the governors and directors of districts. 
However, if we are really willing to democratize, the law should free the country from centralization and decentralize the authority at all levels in the country. That is because we can not have a democracy, if all powers are focused at the center. Decentralization is one of the manifestations of a democratic system. Therefore, the parliamentarians should live up to their national responsibility and voice the interests of their voters, for this law will mark Yemen’s next major move in its political evolution. So, it should ensure total local governance and decentralization of power. 
2- Change in the Government 
Change in the government has become inevitable to salvage the country. President Saleh pledged in his election program and his speech in the eve of the 26th September Revolution anniversary to fight against corruption and introduce change in the structure of the government. He even asked the government of Dr. Iryani to present its program to solve all the tribulations of the country within 90 days. That is very fine and indicates that the president is willing to change the current situation. But the country needs new faces with new blood and are with fully-fledged plans to alleviate the ailments of the people and have a bias in favor of the under-privileged. In addition, I believe corrupt and crooked figures can never be at any rate and any time a tool for change and development. All people are ambitious for change but they have lost heart in the current officials, for they have stuck to their office despite all changes in the governments, premiers, and ministers. Radical change should start by holding the corrupt officials at the power center accountable. The hidden rotten apples should be thrown away. Once this happens, change and reforms in the political, social and economic fabrics will be effective and fruitful. It is a matter of commitment and determination.