Signs of the Ability  to See Light [Archives:1998/50/Viewpoint]

December 14 1998

Two months ago, the Yemen Times ran a story about the foreign exchange resources that have been made available to the authorities through sale of oil as well as foreign aid. The paper asked for explanations how the money was used. Then hell broke loose on us.
I got several threatening phone calls from senior officials in the state. The paper was attacked in the official media. My personal car was smashed from two sides, in a car ‘accident’. The paper’s premises were visited by security personnel. I was taken for interrogation by the Media Prosecutor, etc., etc.
When the Yemen Times wrote the story, it felt it was doing its watchdog job. We also believed the system was serious about introducing accountability into the system. We did expect some heat, but not to the level that we endured.
Today, however, the tide is beginning to change. Government dismay may be subsiding. Instead, I believe there are positive developments. Let me list some of them.
1. Dropping the Case:
Following two interrogation sessions, the case against me has been dropped. Actually, I was asked to prove the numbers quoted in the article and provide tangible evidence to the media prosecutor. This is actually against the law, because journalists are not required to divulge their sources. But, I felt that the prosecutor wanted documents to show that the country did get US$ 22.5 billion over the last 20 years.
I gave him proof in the form of documents that show the authorities had received more than US$ 27 billion. Actually, I collected some additional evidence after the article was published. The attorney-general, Dr. Abdullah Al-Olofi, who I believe is a fair man, decided to shelf the case. However, he asked me to help be providing specific information on government officials and others who embezzle public funds. I promised to work with him on that count.
2. Calls of Support:
After the initial barrage of bad calls, I started receiving sympathetic calls. People in government and outside eagerly expressed their support. Some of the well-wishers are senior members of the ruling party itself. In fact, some senior PGC members promised to take up the matter with the rulers to show them that my article actually serves the nation and regime itself, rather than the other way round.
3. Asking the Same Question:
It was interesting that some of the official media are now beginning to ask the same question: Where did the money go? It is normal that the opposition papers, which ran over 80 articles and cartoons on this theme, should capitalize on the issue. But for the official media to also join the band wagon, it is an encouraging sign.
On the evening of Friday, December 11th. Sanaa Television had a round table debate which brought together the chairman of the Central Organization for Audit and Control, the Chairman of the Financial Committee in Parliament, and an opposition parliamentarian. The topic discussed was: Where did the money go?
Indeed there seems to be a change of heart, and that is heartening!