Robert Hindle to YT:”It is important for Yemen to tackle the whole broad area of governance” [Archives:2003/672/Community]”

September 29 2003

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The World Bank Country Manager, Robert E. Hindle, said the WB and IMF have been happy with the economic and administrative reform package implemented by the government of Yemen since 1995 with the help of the WB and the International Monetary Fund. Since donors granted Yemen over $2 billion in the last meeting in Paris the performance of the government has been satisfactory. ''We are satisfied with what has been done by the government but there is a lot to do. We can say that Yemen is on track but we, the WB, and the donors as a group, also want to continue to press the government to take more specific decisions like improving what we call governance, openness, consistency in decision. We want the government to focus on the education system with visibility; we would like to see the government moves much more aggressively to privatize instant firms. We think it is important for the government to do is to move from what is satisfactory performance to high quality performance,'' he elaborated.
Corruption tracks down development
He described corruption in Yemen as a serious and pervasive problem hindering living standards of the people. ''It is difficult for me to assess whether corruption is going up or down. I can tell as an outsider we certainly know that Yemen's reputation for corruption is a serious problem,'' he pointed out clearly, adding, ''so there is no way that Yemen will improve the lives of people without taking action to reduce corruption. It needs to move more aggressively to reduce corruption,'' he said. He said that the WB experience around the world demonstrates that successful governments must eliminate corruption and that ''it is important for Yemen to tackle the whole broad area of governance because corruption is not just whether or not people are taking money; it is making sure that newspapers are able to report what is happening, making sure that the government publishes information about the budgets; it is ensuring that the people of Yemen have information about what is going on.'' Therefore, he emphasized the vitality of the role of media in the economic growth.
Mr. Hindle said also that he heard many stories about the corruption of the judiciary system as the WB is not involved in it directly. However, he showed great interest in helping the government in this important sector if it asks for that.
Government handles easy decisions
He said that the government is doing excellent with easy decisions like budget, exchange rate, inflation. But the people at the top can not take decisions when it comes to the most difficult things like delivering of services to people, teachers in schools..etc. Hindle cited an example saying that a Yemeni friend of him told him how difficult it is to get a drive license. He said lower down these easy decisions all the implementations of those things are ''thwarted by the way the civil service frankly functions.'' Hindle demanded that the conception of Yemenis of the purpose of civil service should change, something which he believes is one of the great challenges for the country, pointing out that ''there is not yet in Yemen the sense that the purpose of the civil service is to deliver services and help people; Most Yemenis think simply of the civil service an income supplement, it provides basic but low level of income.'' The government, according to Hindle, has a problem now because if it starts cutting the size of the civil service, the private sector is not able to provide jobs and the last thing the government wants to do, which the WB does not recommend, is to throw people out of the government into the streets and make them even poorer, according to Hindle. Therefore, he again stressed on the absolute vitality of improving the environment for the private sector to invest money in Yemen instead of going abroad. However, Hindle believes that there has been something laudable being done in the civil service recently. ''I have to say throughout the past three months, in fact, a number of decisions have been taken to move ahead on civil service reform. We have a sense that the government is paying a lot of attention to it,'' he said.
Improving governance
The WB, Hindle said, is working to help Yemen improve the level of governance at large, and accordingly reducing corruption. ''We are constantly talking to the ministers we deal with about how important it is to improve the overall governance. We are then providing specific assistance to improve what we call the transparency of the budget so that the people of Yemen will know how much money comes to the government and where does it go. We are working with the ministry of civil service and insurance to try to improve the delivery of services,'' he said. However, he admitted that the last point is difficult because it involves raising salaries, retraining civil servants. The WB is also working with the High Tender Board to improve biding regulation and -make sure that the way government contracts are given is done honestly, competitively and fairly.'' It also has special effort along with the IMF to try to improve the customs service.
Worries about the future
Hindle said that the WB has worries about the future, of which is how Yemen will manage reduced oil revenues because ''we foresee much lower revenues from oil and that is going to have severe impact on the economy,'' he said. He thinks that Yemen as a poor country is facing real challenges but ''it is going to become more difficult when the oil runs out.'' However, he also shows optimism that these problems can be sorted out because, to Hindle, the government knows what the problems are and that it is not kidding itself.
He also showed concern over the difficult environment required for foreign investors. ''We see that the private sector in Yemen as a future of creating jobs absolutely vital. But the private sector has real concern about questions of how the government behaves in terms of the private sector and whether or not their contracts will be dealt with fairly,'' Hindle said. He pointed out that Yemeni businessmen are investing more money outside of Yemen which shows that they do not feel secure in terms of keeping their money here and that they will have a better return for their money in Malaysia or Dubai or anywhere else. ''The government is ware that it needs to do things to change this perception of Yemenis. And only after Yemenis start bringing back their money will significant investments come from foreigners,'' he explained. Mr. Hindle who is working for the WB since 1973, said that one of the major steps the government should undertake is to eliminate Yemen's reputation for corruption and strengthen the judiciary system as well as reform the civil service. Business people should come to the point that when they go to get a business license, they are not going to pay something extra; or when they go to collect their goods at the customs, according to Hindle.
Prioritizing education and health care
When I asked him about how to relieve the hard impact of the implementation of the reform package on the living standards of the people, he said that there are two ways for that. First, is the education as ''it is absolutely clear that all Yemeni children need to get certainly the primary education,'' he said, adding, that little girls in rural areas do not have access to school. ''That is something we think is a high priority,'' he pointed out. The second element is improving the health care. ''This is something I think the government understands that delivering good quality health care to people throughout the country is an enormous challenge and that plan to educate young girls are important,'' Hindle said. Yemen should also reduce population growth. ''The economic performance is quite solid but the population growth is high. The government needs to maintain its economic growth rate but at the same time is to try to reduce the population growth rate which we think depends on two things: educating people and improving health care,'' Hindle said.
Security situation
The WB country manager who also worked for the WB in Washington and Egypt stressed that Yemen needs to improve its security situation as it is a country that could attract a number of tourists who, to Hindle, do not come to Yemen because of its reputation. ''I do not see this as a tribal issue but something wherein the government is still in the process of establishing its control,'' he said, highlighting the remarkable improvement in the overall security situation over the past two years clearly viewed in the stop of kidnapping of foreigners. He added that the government has been managing to control the security situation reasonably and effectively, mainly since the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. As a result of terrorism, business at the Aden port has declined after Limburg terrorist attack by about 75%. He said that there is a lot of unused capacity in the port which is viewed as one of the real future ingredients for Yemen.