ReflectionsBORN ILL! [Archives:2004/722/Opinion]

March 22 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
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A friend once told me that development, in any given country, can be easily noted and measured by two things, the efficacy and abundance of its uninterrupted electrical power supply and the orderly traffic on its streets. I always remember this whenever the electricity goes out and I am watching my favorite Latin American series, the newscast or whenever I ride to and from office. Electricity power stations in Yemen, namely in Hodeidah and Mokha, were established in order to meet the needs of the whole country and were proclaimed to be so. Large amounts of moneys were destined for such a project and European companies were hired to do the job.
Luckily during the late seventies and early eighties corrupt officials were so wary compared to the brazen actions of today's responsibles. I remember that during those days the electricity did not used to go out except due to troubles with overhead randomly-connected lines and the electricians used to show up immediately, although they used to ask for fees.
Following the reunification of Yemen and during the early nineties, I remember having read a war of words between two prominent PEC administrative personalities on the pages of the Yemeni Military Mouthpiece (26th September Newspaper).
I remember that both men accused one another of embezzlement and each one gave concrete evidence. Both spoke about embezzled moneys and assets in the U.K and in USA. They spoke about purchasing obsolete machinery under the disguise as new etc. The strange manner in which such a scandal surfaced likewise appeared to be a cover up.
Nowadays, like the few past years, failures or programmed blackouts are recurrent under the pretext of overloads, the need for an overhaul, reduction of wasted energy etc. It is a shame that a revenue institution fails to become sustainable due to continued corruption. People working in this domain told me that every new minister assuming the responsibility claims at the beginning that he is going to solve the problem and that everything is going to be fine, but because like his peers or predecessors he came to the possession wishing to gain and is surprised with the electricity corporation being on crutches and nothing changes. No Yemeni or Arab Minister has ever presented his resignation due to a delict, scandal or failure to perform. So sedative solutions are undertaken (relief power plants are said to be installed but no difference is being noted) all along his tenure until he cedes responsibility to the newly appointed minister. The problem of electricity can be tackled easily, just take the example of Iraq whose electricity was totally destroyed and within months the electricity has returned to its prior war status (equaling nine times Yemen's electricity). Of course none of the ministers had the courage to address the problem because everyone wants to get along, acting by the Arab proverb which says 'If you are amongst the one-eyed people make yourself one-eyed'.
In other ministries or authorities the responsibles make false statements to polish their images in front of the higher ones and their tricks seem to be working (the more one appears in official journals the better are his prospects of promotion) but with electricity it is difficult because it is noticeable and needed so the people always comment derisively about the incessant promises of the consecutive ministers. Some ministers or deputy ministers etc. give moneys to certain state underpaid journalists to publish false or exaggerated figures or news about their accomplishments so that people higher than them can take notice, albeit their achievements are imaginary.
Naturally, the people at the top do not suffer from electricity blackouts because their houses are equipped with uninterrupted power supplies and extra care is being paid to areas where the well to do and responsibles live so as to avoid dangerous criticism. In fact one electricity minister is not to be blamed alone because the problem has passed on from one minister to another but none of them has been frank with the people because they do not want trouble and are just acting like the Ottoman Valis (administrators).
I find it necessary to mention that the Electricity Corporation has got offices in certain zones of the capital where people go to pay the bills or contract in the service and certain of such offices commit many transgressions, for example when someone comes to subscribe they receive him well, take the fees and then tell him they will pass by his home and connect electricity to his home, shop etc. The days pass by without any news so the concerned returns again asking why they have not come yet. They tell him “Be patient we have run out of electricity counters, but we can connect you temporarily until counters are available in our stores”. The subscriber feels happy because now the electricity is connected. After a month or so he or she returns asking for the counter but to no avail. Finally, the subscriber gives up and rather feel somewhat solaced because there is no bill to be paid thinking that the electricity people are to blame for the delay and that no problem shall ensue because he has done his best and approached them many times only to receive the same answer. Alhough the subscriber's assumption is right, the status quo and realities on the ground impose themselves. Being right is not enough, you have to have power in order to prevail. After five months, six months, one year or two the electricity people finally show up and tell the subscriber “Ha.ha. You are enjoying free electricity, why you did not come to take your counter? Well, you have consumed so and so units and must pay an amount of so and so”. Then another of their lot approaches the subscriber and tells him “Look this is the government. If you do not pay for what you have consumed and settle it right now and right here this will entail problems for you including imprisonment, so the man acquiesces and of course pays a lesser amount than the surmised but large enough to suffice the greedy pockets. The supposed amount is distributed amongst the general manager and his clique members. Of course, this is just an aspect of many forms of fraudulence. An observer of such an incident recounted to me how elderly people and women are mistreated so that they give in at last and pay the keenly sought bribe and if such employees are asked why, they charge the government of non-transparency, that they are not paid enough and they are compelled to do this, bearing in mind that sometimes they are disappointed in their attempts whenever their target turns out to be one of the heavy weights i.e. has connections to influential people.
I should mention that some electricity zone managers have proven their honesty and sincerety. They are known and people know their efforts but unfortunately crooks are still the majority.
In my opinion, the problem lies in the overall absence of transparency of the whole system which is being reflected in the way people think, for everybody cares about his own selfish interests and there is a total disregard for the public interest, although public interest is the pretext exploited to achieve gains. Something should be done in order to get rid of non-transparency, lack of seriousness, negligence, absence of immediate justice, inequality of opportunities and the complete nonchalance on the part of the government and the people in general.