On the merits and demerits of foreign expertise [Archives:2005/899/Opinion]

December 1 2005

Undoubtedly the process of development of any country will simply not be the same without having to rely on the endless stream of foreign expertise that flow in and out of the country. One could say that such expertise is both necessary and desired if any country can hope to quickly absorb the fast and accelerating pace of progress the world is experiencing. Many local professionals of various fields have enjoyed the experience of acting as mediums for expertise transfer and indeed have learned a lot from what most of the experts have to offer Yemen as they developed useful skills and knowledge in their professional careers at home and in other countries. Needless to say many of the donor funded programs are codiciled with the required use of experts both to help transfer some particular field of knowledge or professional skills or just to help the donor get a feel of where their money is going.

Much of the success of the experts in carrying out their tasks will rest on some very important fundamental elements of a combination of behavior, professionalism and more important a grasp of the essence of human relations. This observer has had the pleasure as well as the few but disheartening disappointments of sharing a few days, months and even years with so many experts spanning the various fields of professional skills and social services. One must say the experience was for the most part worth it, enriching and all together helpful in molding the perceptions of the observer on so many important issues of human development. This column has itself been enriched with by the wisdom and character undergoing more refinement as the time goes by from many of the experts who crisscrossed paths along a life of ongoing enhancement of awareness. To those who have contributed to the nurturing of the mind of this observer, in addition to their unfailing contribution to the development of the Republic of Yemen, one must say thank you. Their names will span a list that the space herein will not suffice for. However there are those who are worthy of special mention and it would do great justice to them to have the record make note of their noticeable contribution to Yemen's development in some form or another. Some are from the private sector and some are from donor countries or organizations, who truly showed a genuine interest in truly leaving their mark on Yemen.

At the start the observer recalls Dan Lowery (Citibank), who introduced a few of Yemen's outstanding bankers to modern banking and sound financial management. His success in measured by leaving the impressions that do not wear out with time on those he worked. In public service, this observer will also recall John Doyle of Kennedy and Donkin (UK) Power Engineering Consultants, whose impressions are recalled every time when one remembers that it was K & D, which set up most of the planning and developed the engineering for most of the infrastructure for electricity that we are still enjoying (special mention should be given to former Minister of Electricity and Water HE Mr. Mohammed Hassan Sabra, who smoothed the way for both the foreigners and Yemenis to deliver all that their skills and acumen could muster up in those dynamic years of the Seventies and Eighties when the Yemen General Electricity Corporation (later the Public Electricity Corporation) was the most important industrial producer of the land and the most active with a portfolio encompassing some 20 international credits (donor financing and supplier credits), at the time when oil was still a dream world for Yemen, in the hundreds of millions of US dollars. K & D and especially the skillful and well coordinated planning of Mr. John Doyle were instrumental in getting the infrastructure that turned lights in the cities of Yemen transforming their inhabitants from those who depended on kerosene lamps and sesame oil lamps to enjoyers of the latest that digital technology could provide for their homes. That was a long time ago it seems, but had we followed through on the Master Plan produced by K & D, Yemen would not be experiencing any of the current agonies of power off and power on and a lot of savings could be realized not just by the individual or domestic consumers, but also the economy of Yemen.

On the contracting side, one could not help forget the many Italian, Korean and even Yemeni engineers who diligently sought to leave the impressions wherever their minds and tools landed.

In donor support, special mention should be mentioned to the likes of Dr. Ahmed Uthman, Gianni Brizzi, Dr. Chris Ward, and Dr. Nadir Mohammed, just to mention a few from the World Bank, who really showed a feel for providing genuine expertise that had the interests of Yemen at heart. Their openness and cordiality were worth special mention also and more than made up for some of the obnoxious so called “experts”, who considered their work Yemen a fulfillment of their destiny, which placed the ego above all considerations. Then there were the many bilaterally donated experts under the programs of GTZ, the Dutch Government, the Japanese, Kuwaitis (that was sometimes ago when we were buddy-buddy with the Kuwaitis) and Brits, who also left lasting impressions on the mind of many of those who worked with them both in Government, private sector and civil society and without leaving the future generations of Yemen with a heavy debt burden.

On the bad side, we have had some experts, who have forgotten that the success of their missions really rests on how well their work is organized and the mutual respect with their domestic counterparts. These kind of experts somehow manage to get away with a lot without allowing for their domestic counterparts a breath of fresh air even as they pour on them tons of work and insist on have it produced in unreasonable time frames. This observer has seen such situations more than once and was flabbergasted to find that these people had no sense of the awesome negative vibes they create with the people they work with. First of all they come with the notion that what they demand is an absolute right even if there is no contractual obligation to warrant such claims. No matter, they are here to create a good impression on their bosses and their ambitions cannot be compromised for any such ghastly (to them anyway) considerations as recognition of normal human capacity, reasonableness in the interpretation of the contractual obligations that govern their work together. Moreover, they insist that they also have the right to demean anyone who disagrees with them, especially in the propriety of the ideas they put forth, etc. They flower their work with sophisticated terminology, which would be counterproductive to their mission of expertise transfer as most of the beneficiaries are unable to absorb them. The worst part is that the domestic vehicles for transferring this expertise are not accorded the recognition they deserve for the output they have produced in terms of volume pushed upon them beyond what any reasonable contractual obligations would entail, which is taxing sometimes even on the health of those who have been fated to cross unfortunate paths with such experts. More follows.