Local Rule or Local Administration? Let’s Get it Straight! [Archives:1999/46/Focus]

November 15 1999

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
Whereas the importance of a law on local administration cannot be discounted, in the overall process of forming a civil society and for the regulation of the administrative organs of the government at the local level, this law should not be regarded as the essence by which government at the local and provincial level is established or “regulated.” The guiding framework for local and provincial rule should rest with the Constitution of the Republic. Thus, there is no justification for delaying the establishment of local and provincial councils – municipal council elections and tri-branch provincial government modeled after the Central Government, with their elected senior leaderships, because of the absence of a “local administration law,” as the government insists. 

While it is fairly established that the relationship between the Central Government and the local authorities may require a legislative framework to insure that the constitutional implications of local empowerment and considerable self-rule are not violated, such a framework should not be initiated by the Central Government – the Central Executive Branch – but by the national legislative body of the government. The reasons for this are, first of all, the latter is composed of elected representatives who come from all over the country, who would presumably take into consideration the maximum interests of their constituents to heart in the formulation of such an important legislation, if it is needed at all.
Second of all, it would seem highly inconceivable that a highly centralized executive structure – as our central government is – can ever be expected to issue legislative frameworks that should work to dissolve any of its existing powers and controls, or to translate the constitutional implications of decentralized “federal” models of government and, more important, the aspirations of the people, as to how much self-rule they are entitled to. But, our legislative branch, to my knowledge, has yet to initiate any legislation on its own, in the legislative process, as there are no laws, to this date, which have ever originated from the parliament itself.
Thus, our parliament has failed to perform its most significant function, as a “law-making body.” Surely, an important element of democratic government is missing, when the Parliament merely becomes no more than a bureaucratic inconvenience that is spoon-fed legislation dictated to it by the executive branch, to which, at best, they can tail-end with “comments”, that are void of any legal weight, which have yet to ever be manifested by executive action or judicial ruling. Accordingly, the “Law of Local Administration” can never be expected to convey any radical advances towards real democratic government, nor should it be expected to give local ownership of locally found resources and true meaning to empowerment over the management of local affairs.
As is the case in most of the laws involving political activity, the law under “consideration” by parliament, which will deal with the “local administration” of the country, will only work to undermine the constitutional implications of “local government,” or “local rule,” in addition to giving legal weight to the de-facto exercise of the powers now enjoyed by the Ministry of Local Administration and the other line ministries, over the local affairs of state.
From its title alone, we can clearly see how the “Draft Law” deviates from the constitutional interpretations of local government. By merely having called it the “Law of Local Administration” underscores the devious intentions that are implicit in the Law, that local government, per se, is out of the question, and to instill the status quo, under which the management of local affairs is nothing more than an extended function of central government authority. In this context, even “decentralization”, as much of the literature put out by the government, over the last six years, clearly conveys on this subject, is always referred to as being “financial and administrative decentralization,” again discounting any connotations of political empowerment or community involvement in the management of local affairs. In other words, the Draft Law is really no more than insignificant delegations of some central authorities and functions to local administrative units or even “elected” councils, but with the ultimate control and veto remaining very much at the Center.
Therefore one should not expect that the “Draft Law of Local Administration” should really be expected to significantly bring Yemen any closer to real autonomous “self-rule,” for those matters of state that could be better dealt with far better – and should be dealt with – at the local level by institutions that should be free from any oversight by the Ministry of Local Administration, which might be good enough logic to do away with the Ministry of Local Administration altogether, since the establishment of such institutions will be based on constitutionally defined frameworks that will have the controls needed to insure that the local governing institutions do not go beyond giving these institutions just enough jurisdictions to ensure that they can do their jobs properly, while at the same time prevent their interference from any roles set for the central government accordingly. The present status of the local administrative units, incidentally, were established by central decrees that are based on purely political considerations, leaving geographic, demographic and social factors of greater significance aside. We should also not expect that, by the present Draft Law, local communities will have gained the right (to even have a say) in setting their own course for development and in deciding what their own destiny should be.
As is often the case in the formulation of most of the laws by the Central Government of the Republic of Yemen, the drafting of the Draft Law for Local Administration is not without the deficiencies that underscore the absence of purpose and lack of coherence to the recognized meanings and conceptualizations that are implicit in the terminology related to the structuring of modern civil societies and the institutions that govern them. To put it simply, this means that what is stated and what is meant, especially on matters of government, political activity and even on the due process of law, fail to achieve congruence and eventually fail to achieve common relevance to the government and the governed – an obvious source of confusion which provides an understandable reason for despair, which sooner or later could easily evolve into discontent among the latter. It is easy to understand, then, why national identity and community interaction tend to have meanings of less value to the general population and thus the grounds for national affinity and responsible citizenship are accordingly much weaker. Chaos becomes easily instilled within the society in such a situation, and the Law (in its general context) looses its regulatory role in the society, as well as its intended safeguards. Moreover, especially, with respect to the law being dealt with herein, community spirit and national interest loose their influence in the determination of political will. The end result is that narrow self-interests have their sway and ultimately mass suffering prevails.
We really need to look at ourselves with greater objectivity, with a view towards scrutinizing the deep causes of the seemingly endless state of crisis we seem to be in, with nothing ever seeming to go right and the chronic inability to establish any start for positive trends to set in, in any of the sectors and subsectors that cross our social order. Given the right dose of seriousness and sincerity required for such an unprejudiced self assessment, it will not be hard to come across one important conclusion: the major reason for the many difficulties we are facing as a nation was and still remains the insistence of the Central Government, embodied in the executive branch, to maintain, and sometimes, even tighten its stranglehold on all aspects of our lives, both as individuals and communities, and to persist on the presumption that the Yemeni people, by and large, are not worthy of being masters of their own destiny. The present Draft Law for Civil Administration, does not fail to deviate from such an already highly palpable conclusion and, as usual, fails to take the interests of the people – the Nation – at large, to heart. For sure, the proposed law does not, in any way, move us any closer to being a “Switzerland” with its most liberal decentralized scheme and its powerful display of efficient modern government. Maybe we need to have our mountains covered with snow to underscore the point that our geographic features alone dictate that autonomous local government units (not administrative units) is the only right way for Yemen to move forward.