NDI Delegation on Role of Parliamentary Committees [Archives:1997/44/Law & Diplomacy]

November 3 1997

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is a US-based, non-profitable NGO. It aims, with the help of worldwide action network of volunteer experts, to consolidate and expand democracy around the world. Upon the request of Yemeni parliamentarians, a three-member delegation from the NDI has recently visited Yemen to conduct lectures on the role played by specialized parliamentary committees in the democratic process. The delegates met several parliamentary committees’ heads, deputies, rapporteurs, and staff. Yemen Times interviewed two of the delegates. Excerpts:
Ms. Karen English is a former member of the American Congress and head of the committee on environment at the Senate. She is an assistant professor of political science at the North Arizona University.
Q: Do you envisage a bigger role for Yemen women in parliament and in public life in general? A: It does appear that Yemen is perhaps a little more progressive than other countries in the region. The fact that there are two women already in parliament indicates there is a significant role for women in parliament. I suspect, like in most democracies, as women become more involved there will be more interest by other women.
Q: How do you see role of democratic NGOs in consolidating the democratic process in Yemen? A: Private initiative organizations have played a role in developing democracies all around the world. The role they usually play is to remind that democracy that there are aspects to a country’s society or culture that need to be incorporated into the plan. They will continue to play an important role in helping design a democracy.
Q: How does the NDI help with the process of democratization? A: NDI has been involved in training people how to hold open elections. But in this particular conference, the NDI has invited three of us. We all have democracies and parliaments with some similarities to Yemen. We were invited to share our own experiences. NDI accomplishes exposure and an opportunity to discuss a variety of ways to accomplish something. The best decisions are informed decisions. If the members that we have met have five or six ways to solve a problem then they can choose the best one.
Q: How do you view the progress of democratization in Yemen? A: I am very impressed. It is such a new democracy. I am pleased by how far things have moved in such a period of time. The US has taken 200 years to accomplish something. Yemen has taken 2 or 3 years. The people of Yemen should be congratulated for moving very swiftly in the area of democracy.
Q: Any last comment? A: One of thing that I found so interesting is how much people are engaged in doing what is right for the country. I have met people from different regions of Yemen. They all seem to have a similar interest which is designing a system that is best for the country, and maintains the values of democracy. Sometimes that is not the case in the US. It is such an honor to work with people like that.

Mr. Mike Watson has, for seven years, been a member of the British House of Commons, and is now a member of the House of Lords. Lord Watson is currently a reader at the University of Strathclyde and a consultant at P.S. Public Affairs Consultants LTD.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Yemen? A: The purpose of the visit is to pass on to Yemeni members of parliament the experience of myself and other colleagues of the operation of parliamentary committees. I have a considerable experience of the senior committees in the British parliament. I have been passing on that experience to the deputies and the staff that serve the committees which are a very important part of a democracy. They ensure that the workings of the executives can be opened up to the public and questioned. We have been simply saying what is happening in France, the US and Britain.
Q: What have you achieved in this visit? A: From my point of view, I have also been learning because democracy in Yemen has moved very quickly. It has been very interesting and fascinating for me to hear of the experiences of your people. We can think of it as a two-way process. I don’t come here to say that this is how it should be done. All I say is this is what we have done in the British parliament. There are some things that are good and others not so good about it. Perhaps you want to take some of these things into your account when you change your democratic structure.
Q: Scotland and Wales had recently voted to have their own parliaments. Do you see this happening in Yemen – southern and northern parliaments, say? Is it a healthy sign? A: I would see it differently. Scotland has voted to have its own parliament but that does not mean it is going to stop being part of the UK. In Yemen, if there is going to be a separate parliament it will not be north and south Yemen. It will be in different regions of the country. But I don’t think this is something you should do in the near future. I think you need to establish a system of local government to complement what you do in your national government. I have been talking to people from the north and south of the country, everybody said they want to remain united as a nation. What is happening in Scotland is that government is decentralizing. Too much power is held in London. The people in Scotland and Wales want more say in their affairs. So they voted to do that. Within Yemen, you are still coming together as a country so any question of decentralizing is something for the future. But I think in general it is a good thing.
Q: What are your impressions of the process of democratization in Yemen ? A: I think it is very impressive. It is difficult to build a democracy. It does take time and commitment on behalf of those involved to make sure it works. I am in no doubt at all that the people we met from the deputy speaker down through the committee chairs and MPs are determined to do that. One of the signs is that the General People’s Congress party does not try to run everything themselves. They bring in the opposition parties such as Islah and Baath. Democracy is an inclusive operation. Yes, the party that gets most votes must rule the country, but that does not mean excluding everybody else. That is happening in Yemen. It is a good sign. I think it is already clear only 3 years after your civil war that the democracy is what people want.
Q: Any last comment? A: We have been received with great warmth and friendship. The visit has been a pleasure, although we have had a very hard work with no time for sightseeing. I think the Yemeni deputies and committee secretaries have found it useful as well.