Silver LiningCrackdown on corruption needs commitment [Archives:2005/898/Opinion]

November 28 2005

By Mohammed Hatem al-Qadhi
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I have read a news report on the 26 September weekly newspaper issued by the army that an independent committee to fight corruption will be announced soon, involving a number of prominent personalities and NGOs interested in the issue.

I am afraid that this committee will be just like other committees which have done nothing and turned into a part of the corruption drive as their members just meet and work but when it comes to implementation, nothing takes place. Let's take the tribal revenge committee set by the president. What is the outcome of this committee of the Shura council? The members met and discussed the problem and that is it. No concrete procedures have been taken to address the problem.

The Central Organization for Control and Auditing, an anti-corruption watchdog answerable to the president, has been monitoring government revenues, spending, procurement and performance. But, its reports are either not taken into account or are being used to blackmail this or that government official.

Corruption is really a very serious headache that hits all aspects of our life. It has become an acceptable practice and a daily routine that people live with. Taking bribes is a more accepted practice by from high ranking government officials down to ordinary civil servants. One can not get his work done at any government institution without bribing their way through. This practice was looked as something bad in the past but now government employees ask for it openly. This takes place almost everywhere, including the judiciary, in schools, universities tc. It has mounted to the extent of the sell-off of the country's oil for private benefit. Government officials go with the belief their appointment in key positions is a kind of reward given to them by the regime and therefore, they should work hard to abuse them as much as they can and get enriched. Some officials or influential tribal or military guys have suddenly become businessmen with huge investments. Their influence and abuse of power is the source of such wealth. The roads situation in our cities is a real demonstration of how corruption can cripple development. As the wrong companies owned by influential tribal people or government officials are contracted to do infrastructure projects, the loss is doubled as every now and then, streets are being repaired at the expense of the people.

I feel that corruption is no longer a domestic problem that matters only to us as Yemeni citizens. It is rather becoming a development challenge and detriment that is inviting the attention of the donors and international community. The World Bank is growing fed up with such pervasive problem and its officials said last month it would reduce by 34 percent its upcoming three-year loan assistance package to Yemen, starting July 2006, because of a lack of government transparency and good governance. The UNDP officials criticized that big chunks of the budget are located to security and purchasing of weapons, neglecting priority areas like health and education. The US officials are also aware of the lack of transparency and said they rate corruption as their second-most important issue after counterterrorism. This chaotic situation and the absence of accountability and independent judiciary that can enforce law have scared away foreign investors to come to the country, pushing away even local investors.

There is concern that corruption will widen the gap between rich and poor, deepen disenchantment with the political system and cause instability in a country soaked with weapons.

We are, therefore, coming to the moment of truth and I think that the regime should start seriously to stamp out corruption because it is the first obstacle blocking the country's bid to pull itself out of an economic crisis. However, our problems can not be sorted out by such committees. The president and other senior officials admit that there are corrupt officials. Why do not they prosecute them then?

We need a real commitment and a strong political will to start eradicate this problem.

The moment corrupt people are held accountable and prosecuted, we will believe that there is a serious crackdown on it. Otherwise, such talk and no action policy will lead us to catastrophe.