SILVER LININGLondon Donors Conference and Yemen’s challenges [Archives:2006/996/Opinion]
I wrote in this column some weeks ago the post-elections era is filled with several challenges for the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh both on the political and economic levels. The challenges on the political level, represented by the elections of the governors and districts directors as well as that of the Shoura council members, are an easy task to carry out. Saleh already said the governors of the governorates will be elected by the representatives of the local councils. He might make other decisions in this respect in the near future as such reforms need a political decision.
However, it is the economic challenges that are difficult to face as their implementation needs financial resources beyond Yemen's capacity as well as harsh reforms. The government needs to address serious economic issues such as poverty, unemployment, corruption which all pose major obstacles to development.
The government has started talking about steps to enhance transparency and reduce corruption. It said a committee for tenders will be set up from independent personalities known for their integrity and the tenders draft law is being amended. The government approved a draft of their corruption law last November and says it is now under amendment with the help of international expertise. Already the government launched an awareness campaign against corruption and its hazards with support from the U.S. and European through different mass media including billboards and posters in over 700 sites, 300 out of it were placed in Sana'a.
Another challenge facing the government is that these reforms are not realized by and getting support of the public as the people do not see any concrete results of them on their lives. For instance, the government has been saying it will crack down on corrupt officials and influential figures, but it remains just talk; we have not seen, for example, the prosecution of corrupt officials. And because of this the people have no faith in the ability and seriousness of the regime to stand up to such serious issues. The government is not even able to put such issues under discussion in its institutions.
These efforts of Yemen and particularly the recent elections have been welcomed by the U.S. and European countries. But there is concern among the donors that these reforms made by the government are just meant to please them. There are also concerns that the donors conference turns into a sort of public relations between the donors and the Ministry of Planning as the donors still think Yemen has failed to invest and appropriately use its loans and grants.
The Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, are motivated to make the conference a success. The GCC general secretariat already started negotiation with Yemen on how its economy can be rehabilitated and qualified. The U.S. is pushing countries to extend a hand of support to Yemen as they foresee the hazards of the collapse of the system in Yemen and its impact on other countries. The fall of Yemen will make it a better environment for terrorism which the U.S. and the international community do not want.
The Americans, the Europeans and the Saudis have extended warm congratulations to Saleh on winning the elections. This move might send signals of good support expected from these countries at the donors conference. It is true the recent elections are a step forward in the democratization drive. However, they are not reason enough for the donors to pour their money into Yemen at the London conference next week. The GCC already said, in its dialogue with Yemen, it takes into account the international standards of the World Bank and other agencies. The donors, in fact, need to see serious economic reforms in practice to ensure money is spent efficiently and appropriately and, above all, for the overall welfare of the Yemeni people. There must a mechanism on the basis of which the donors make sure their funds are spent properly. It is only this commitment that can make the donors conference a golden opportunity for Yemen's government to bring more funds to overcome its monumental economic challenges.
During the elections campaigns Saleh promised he would wage a war on corrupt and influential crooks and this is the only way out for bringing foreign investments into the country; it is also the reform of the judiciary and in particular the commercial judiciary which can help create a better investment environment. For investment of the Aden port in particular it is the key element for Yemen's prosperity – as oil is gradually running out. Yemen needs fair and independent judiciary, security, competent administration and, of course, a good infrastructure.
However, the most important challenge is the cronies around the president. Will they wake up and stop drawing a rosy picture for the president about the situation in Yemen. Are they aware of the future of 22 million people whose country is on its last legs? Is the government aware reform is a national necessity and urgency and not just to appease the West and donor countries? They should realize this conference is the last chance for Yemen to demonstrate its eligibility for reform and improve itself and cope up with the international community which will leave us on our own if we collapse. Will they learn the lesson of Somalia?
Mohammed Al-Qadhi is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.