Mr. Hans van Mierlo: “I foresee no major changes in our development assistance policy in the immediate future.” [Archives:1998/03/Law & Diplomacy]
During his three-day visit to Yemen the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Hans van Mierlo met President Ali Abdullah Saleh and several senior Yemeni officials. He also visited the development projects which are financed by the Dutch government in Sanaa, Hadhramaut, and Dhamar. On this occasion, Dr. Salah Haddash of the Yemen Times met Mr. Mierlo, and filed the following interview.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Yemen? A: The main purpose of my visit to Yemen is to strengthen bilateral relations between our two countries. These relations as you well know are long-standing and strong. I need only remind you of the superb and highly successful exhibition on Yemen in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, the capital of my country, in the 1980s. For many visitors, this exhibition was their first encounter with Yemen and its culture. Many Dutch people have traveled to Yemen since then. My visit also serves to underline the importance we attach to democratic developments in Yemen. Yemen is an important country to the Netherlands. In our view, peace and stability in Yemen will contribute towards stability in the Arabian peninsula and the Gulf Region in general.
Q: How do you assess the efficiency of Dutch assistance being used in Yemen? A: When we started our development cooperation program in 1978, it was only with what was then North Yemen; only after unification in 1990 did we extend our support to the South. The Gulf War, which broke out shortly after the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, had severe negative repercussions for Yemen’s economy. In addition, the country’s relationship with a number of Arab and Western countries lost some of its former warmth as a result of the war’s political fallout. However, the Netherlands continued its development support to Yemen without interruption. This is another sign of the well-established and enduring ties between the two countries. After almost 20 years of development cooperation between our two countries, it may be a good moment to look back and assess the effectiveness of our assistance. Let me start by saying that social and economic development does not take place in a vacuum. The macroeconomic and political conditions are of the utmost importance, and often actually determine whether aid leads to sustainable development. Consequently, peace and stability in Yemen are necessary preconditions for a beneficial political and socio-economic climate. The macro-economic stabilization and structural reform program embarked on by the Yemeni Government is laying solid foundations for the necessary socio-economic development. In response to Minister Planning’s call for the international community to show its commitment to Yemen’s development, the Netherlands organized an informal donor meeting with the Yemeni Government in the Hague in January 1996. Following on from this, we studied the issues involved, with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As a result, in June 1997 the EU hosted the first World Bank Consultative Group Meeting on Yemen, which generated substantial financial support for the coming years. After a period of relative international isolation, Yemen is back on the agenda of the international donor community. Despite the setback of the June 1996 floods, Yemen’s economy performed very well last year. According to recent IMF reports, the macro-economic adjustment program has already yielded remarkable results. The planned liberalization of the economy provides good opportunities for private sector growth. I am very encouraged to note that at this stage of the adjustment process, the prospects are good. However, despite the Yemeni Government’s efforts, there is still a long way to go. The Netherlands remains ready to work actively with Yemen to meet the many challenges ahead. In an effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our program we delegated responsibility for the implementation of the country’s program to our embassy in Yemen, starting in January 1997. I think this provides firm guarantees for the efficiency of our program. However, we keep in touch with our Yemeni partners, always seeking ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness still further. Finally, I should like to mention that I am concerned about the number of foreigners, including many tourists, who have been taken hostage in Yemen. This lack of security presents a bad image abroad and hampers the full development potential of the tourism sector. As a friend, I sincerely hope that your Government can review the situation with the local sheikhs and help eradicate this problem.
Q: We understand you have a keen interest in human rights and democratization. Can you give your views on the situation in Yemen in these two fields? A: I think that a political consensus is emerging in Yemen on the concept of good governance as a key to the success of development. In my opinion, good governance means creating a democratic and pluralist society with broad participation by men and women alike, and full respect for universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also implies accountability, the efficient and prudent management of public resources, restraint in military expenditure and creating an economic environment conducive to private initiative. In all these areas, Yemen has already made considerable progress, although I realize that much remains to be done. All of us have taken good notice of the efforts undertaken by the Yemeni Government towards the unification of the country and democratization. The Government embarked on an ambitious political agenda leading to the parliamentary elections that were held on 27 April last year and the forthcoming local elections this year. Allow me to congratulate the Government and the people of Yemen on last year’s parliamentary elections, which were conducted in a reasonably free and fair manner, as was noted by the international observers, including those sent by the Dutch Government.
Q: Will the present level of Dutch assistance to Yemen continue for the rest of 1998? A: In recent years the Netherlands’ average annual budget for Yemen has been around NLG 50 – 60 million, which is equivalent to US $25 – 30 million. Actual expenditure may be higher, however, if specific project proposals qualify for funding under our export subsidy scheme, as in the case of the Mukalla Power Supply Project. As a result, last year’s expenditure was considerably higher: NLG 100 million, equivalent to US $50 million. Funds under this scheme are not assigned to specific countries in advance.
Q: What are the changes in focus and priority, if any, in Dutch aid that you envisage? A: The Dutch Government has been providing assistance to such areas as health care, water supply, education, agriculture and environmental protection. We have also been instrumental in providing substantial debt relief over a period of years, as well as supporting cultural projects. I foresee no major changes in our development assistance policy in the immediate future.
Q: Do you have any last comments or additional remarks you would like to make? A: Allow me to use this opportunity to extend my best wishes and felicitations to the President, the Government and the people of Yemen on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadhan and the New Year. I should personally like to congratulate His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh on having held the office of President of Yemen for 20 years this year. Under his leadership historic milestones have been reached: the country has been reunited and democracy installed. I wish him good health and success in facing the challenge ahead: to lead Yemen into the next century. As I have already noted, on 8 October 1978 the Netherlands and Yemen signed an agreement on development cooperation. Now, 20 years later, we should not let this anniversary pass unnoticed. It may be a good moment to look back and celebrate, and at the same time we may also reflect on how to develop our bilateral relationship further in the future.