Nassir Abdo Arman: “The majority party’s bloc thwarts parliamentary efforts to hold the executive branch accountable.” [Archives:1999/06/Interview]

February 8 1999

Parliament is one of the most important organs of a democratic state. Its role in representing the people’s will, and in the checks and balances of power distribution is vital.
In the experiences of many newly democratic nations, the period leading to the third election is crucial. Either the transformation develops roots and proceeds smoothly – as is the case of many East European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, South Africa, etc.; or there is a reversal and chaos as is the case in Albania and several African countries.
The Republic of Yemen has had two parliaments directly elected by the people – in 1993 and 1997. The third one is scheduled for 2001. We are today about halfway through the term of the second parliament.
Yemen Times chose this occasion to talk to one of the respectable members of our parliament, Mr. Nassir Abdo Arman.
Nassir, a businessman turned parliamentarian, has represented constituency 131 in Al-Baidha since 1988. He is independent and is widely respected by his colleagues and constituency. He is a man of integrity. Above all, he is one of the few members of parliament who comes to the sessions prepared. He reads the files, and prepares his statements and interventions beforehand.
Ismail Al-Ghabry of Yemen Times discussed with Mr. Arman a number of issues and filed the following interview.
Q: Let us start with a general question. How do you view Yemen’s democratic transformation?
A: Democratization is a long-term process. It is actually a never-ending process, meaning that you keep working on improving the system.
In light of this, I believe that any society’s success in its democratic evolution depends on many factors. Two important ones are the level of education (meaning general public awareness of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic system), and the level of commitment on the part of decision-makers and opinion-makers in the democratization process.
Here in Yemen, we are still in the very early stages of our political evolution. We still have a long way to go.
Q: How do you assess the performance of the present parliament, now that we are almost halfway through its term?
A: This parliament played an important role in building a new state. Remember that we inherited two sets of laws which needed to be unified in one system. So we issued many new laws for the new state.
We also approved many bilateral and multi-lateral political, economic, cultural and other agreements which had been concluded between our country and other nations and organizations.
I do feel, however, more could have been done in the field of monitoring and supervising the work of the executive branch of authority. We are weak in our interaction with the executive branch.
Q: Why is parliament weak in such interaction?
A: There are many reasons for this unbalanced relationship.
Let me enumerate:
1. Many members of parliament do not realize the enormous role and many rights they are given by the constitution and laws. Parliament needs qualified assistants and staffers to help the members realize exactly what they can do and how they should interact.
2. Many members of parliament owe their success in the parliamentary elections to the executive branch of authority. They continue to need the executives for perks and services.
3. The overwhelming majority of the People’s General Congress also weakened the parliament.
Q: You have just started a new round of sessions. There are important issues to be discussed including constitutional amendments, laws on local government, demonstrations, etc. What are the details and how prepared are the members of parliament?
A: I have heard of these important issues. But let me tell you honestly, I have no specific information on these issues. This is done on purpose so that people do not have enough time to think about these matters and thus those who push the amendments and laws do so with the least objections and debate.
I do not know exactly what the majority party wants to introduce as amendments. We will have to wait and see.
Q: But the local authority bill was presented to parliament by the government?
A: Yes, it was presented to the full house, which simply voted to let the Local Administration Committee of the parliament go through it and then present its views and comments to the house. This is expected to take place in the near future.
Q: Whatever happened to the bloc of ‘Independents’ in parliament?
A: As you know, many of the people who competed as independents were not really independent. They belonged to either the People’s General Party or the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (Islah). They joined their parties after the elections. Those stood as independents in the elections for political expediency with the voters.
Today, a very small group of parliamentarians – maybe as few as 8 members – are independents. But even these do not coordinate adequately among themselves.
Q: Today we witness a visible erosion in the role and prestige of the state. You are a public figure who has been involved in politics for a long time. How do you explain this deterioration?
A: Let me start with a basic premise – the economy. As you know, it is the quality or standard of living that determines people’s attitude towards their political system. The media has often written the now famous quote – ” It is the economy, stupid.”
So the people’s frustration with the organs of the state and the politicians, whether in the present time or in the future, will be determined by the economic situation.
Second, the dramatic fall in law and order is an ominous sign of the shrinking role of the state. There are many incidents in which the state is shut out. People have to resolve their problems by themselves. Thus, it is the weak who lose in such a free-for-all environment. In addition, the various organs of the state do not function adequately any more.
Finally, the level of corruption in our country has reached unprecedented levels. Corruption erodes the legitimacy of a system as it eats away on the credibility and respect of the leaders of society and state. Politicians rule because the people tacitly agree to obey them. This requires the politicians to behave in a certain morally-superior way.
Q: The media often writes specific allegations of corruption. In some cases, even proofs of wrong-doing are printed. Why doesn’t parliament act on these reports?
A: Yes, I have seen many reports of instances in which we could have picked up for investigation and inquiry. The parliament and its committees could have followed-up those allegations, because it has a duty to the general public to control and monitor the performance of the executive branch. But such steps are thwarted by the People’s General Congress’s majority bloc in parliament.
I believe it is important to establish a unit in parliament to collect all kinds of data and evidence regarding the performance of the executive branch’s malpractice and hold it accountable.
Q: The tourism industry is suffering today because of the fallout from the frequent kidnappings. What is to be done?
A: Clearly, responsibility falls on the security organs of the state in particular, and on the executive branch of authority in general. These incidents are proof that there is a problem.
In my opinion, unless law and order is restored, we will see disastrous consequences.
Q: Any last comments?
A: I have to applaud the Yemen Times for printing daring articles on corruption and abuse of power. I also follow the pressure it has been withstanding because of its watch-dog role.
We in parliament are willing to work closely with the media. Our sessions are open. I feel that the media has an important role in the checks and balances of a modern system.