ReflectionsThe wide gap between a Yemeni civil servant & his boss [Archives:2004/726/Opinion]

April 5 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
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It is with great reluctance that I write about a repeatedly discussed subject: the seemingly unbridgeable gap between a regular Yemeni civil servant and the civil servant promoted to a higher position i.e. his boss. I used to know an employee, who happened to be my work place neighbor, but now, no more. This acquaintance of mine used to come up to me repeatedly asking to borrow some money until he received his meager governmental salary, under various excuses.
Sometimes, he used to say that he needed the money in order to purchase a bunch of Qat, pay the house rent, complete the price of something etc. When the debt kept growing and no payment was received I stopped lending to him and asked him to expedite payment of his debts. Because I did not trust him any more, I made him introduce me to his employer's cashier who used to pay me back my money in the form of monthly installments. This agreement was not easily reached.
After I got back all my money, I refused to lend him again and tried to evade him whenever I came across him so as to avoid further headaches. If I had to encounter him, I just uttered the usual Salamalaykom (Hello), and that was all.
Out of the blue, to my extreme surprise I saw him one day in one of Sanaa's many crossroads. There he was driving a luxurious car and believe it or not smoking a cigar instead of his usual cheap type of cigarettes. I was really stunned to notice this sudden makeover, for he was wearing a nice up-to-the-minute suit. Although he saw me in the neighboring taxi he pretended that he did not see me. Away went the taxi and I am totally absorbed thinking about what I have just seen. How come! How did the man come to be smartened up like this? From a poor fellow in filthy rich in a matter of few months!
On many other occasions I have been accustomed to seeing the man going out from or entering a prestigious men's & women's clothes boutique accompanied by as it seems one of his employees, carrying different types of suits and clothing. I ventured one day into this boutique only to be taken aback by the exorbitant amounts asked for a man's suit or a woman's dress. Prices for the suits range from YR 200,000 to YR 400,000 (i.e.$1086-$2172) and even higher. Seeing the man leading a life of ease and comfort I blamed myself for having gained his animosity unnecessarily. Now, that he has become a government responsible I would have been able to get my rights with his help, because no-one gets his rights nowadays without help from such people. How ill-stared I am! I cannot approach him any more after all I have done for him. So I resigned myself to my lot, but still, I was never convinced how it all happened! I was completely curious to know the reasons behind such a transformation. Until one day, I met one of his closest friends who did not know about our story and asked him how it all happened. The man was delighted to brag about his friendship with the then newly promoted friend of his and thus blurted out everything he knew. He told me that his friend had suffered a lot and that he deserved what he has attained. According to him his friend was always at the beck and call of the boss and with time the boss entrusted him many tasks, to the extent that they chewed Qat together. That he was the boss's right hand man, and as the boss is of elaborate connections, when the boss moved to a higher position, he decided to intervene for his friend in order to allow him take up his place. He said that his friend deserved to be promoted because of his loyalty to the boss. That they pilfered together, went abroad on missions for the sake of gaining travel fares, helped him with futile facade symposiums, seminars etc. (in Yemen, certain people boast pilferage of public moneys and consider that as a type of personal intelligence for which any given perpetrator ought to be praised and the word Red-Eyed (in Arabic Ahmar Aain) has been coined as an attribute of such an individual, I guess that the Red-eyed is called as such because of drinking too much in order to silence his conscience if he has any ).
It is worth mentioning that the man occupies now a position that is in high demand, for cohorts of people keep coming and going in order to complete their formalities and in addition to the privileges of cars, travels etc. the man also uses his position to get lucrative bribes. I asked him, “haven't you noticed that your friend has become so haughty?”. He agreed with me and added that the man has become totally conceited and is full of lies. On a steady basis he pays for certain journalists in order to write about his establishment and its make-believe accomplishments in order to avoid attempts by covetous individuals to take his position and that he cannot imagine himself added to the bin of state consultants (Mustashars) whom he referred to as Mustashals i.e. a rhyming word meaning “unseated” instead of Mustashars. His fear of losing the position has made him divorce his poverty-time wife and has married a daughter of one of the influential people so that he can have enough backing if push comes to shove.
From the above, one can infer the wide gap between a normal civil servant and another of the same level who happens to either be promoted due to fraud or being a son of a chieftain or an everlasting responsible. I do not think that the same gap exists in governmental departments in the developed world because salaries are supposed to cover the needs of the employee for living and relevant bills. That small differences are due to rightful promotions only, within the parameters of the law, for when one becomes responsible in those countries, he cannot act according to his own whim, as is the case with us, but rather must abide by the rules and laws. Promotions unfortunately in Yemen are based on tribal or family bias rather than real qualification: so do not ever think that our responsibles are our elite. Furthermore, salaries are not sincere quotations, in that they do not cover the employees' daily needs and this in itself is an open invitation for pilferage so people can make ends meet. Because, managers and chairmen are in control they steal public money in millions and hence they have private businesses, hospital, multi-story buildings, villas, and different types of cars etc. If they are not real thieves please convince me, how their petty salaries, which cannot cover the electricity bills, are able to purchase them such assets. How come they have bank accounts in Switzerland, London, Cyprus, Paris, etc? Please, do not tell me that they hail from rich families and what they have are merely family riches, because this is the repeated cliche. Why not give the employees enough salaries and most importantly the higher administrators, and then exercise strict restriction on the withdrawal and spending of public finance. We should have a unified wages system because now each establishment has its own and salaries do vary a lot from one institution to another. Sufficient salaries and the principle of competitiveness should be applied in all fields for things to become better. Salaries should not be left for managers to decide, they should be an established right and measures should be taken for individuals not to receive multiple state salaries, as is the case nowadays. Actually, the whole Yemeni administrative system needs a total shake up because in my modest opinion it is totally rotten.