Rearranging Yemen’s priorities [Archives:2007/1097/Viewpoint]

October 25 2007

The Editorial Board
One of Yemen's problems is its military. Contrary to popular belief that the military is the protector of the nation's sovereignty and independence, it has become a liability to the economy, not only because of its annual consumption of 6.6 percent of the gross domestic product – ranked seventh highest in the world – but also for the cost of expanding the military at the expense of other vital services such as health, education and social services.

With the return of more than 6,000 military retirees to the army and the accompanying expenses of reinstating their military ranks, Yemen's military expenses are expected to increase significantly, especially if these 6,000 retirees receive higher military ranks and salaries.

Apart from that expense, President Ali Abdullah Saleh reinstated mandatory military service for high school graduates, ordering 70,000 pupils to join the army and police forces for a two-year training program. We don't know how the president plans to finance this operation; however, we estimate that if each of these 70,000 receives the minimum government wage of YR 20,000 per month, Yemen will need 33.6 billion riyals to finance this operation for every batch of trainees.

That's a lot of money the nation could use to build universities and vocational training colleges offering education, training, careers and sources of income for pupils in order to build an educated and knowledgeable workforce to play an active role in the economy.

There's another fundamental problem with Yemeni military and police, as those who spend their careers in this line of work usually end up with lower-than-average incomes, and given inflation and other economic pressures, there's a high tendency for such personnel to become involved in corruption. One example is Yemeni border patrol, which continually suffers smuggling.

Smuggled goods continue moving into and out of the country while businesses face extreme market pressures attempting to compete with smugglers who don't pay taxes or royalties and have far lower operating costs. Higher authorities continue to state that the nation is doing whatever it takes to fight the phenomenon; however, smugglers continue operating freely within Yemen.

One food smuggler who spoke to the Yemen Times said, “Border patrol armies are the first beneficiaries of smuggling – they even help us traffic our products into the country using their wireless telecommunication devices. If you would record such communications and investigate them, you'd be surprised at how corruptible smugglers are.” Yemen is a nation running out of oil and water, but spending more on its military – this isn't right.