Silver LiningWhen cabinet change makes sense? [Archives:2007/1016/Opinion]

January 15 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Last week's rumors of a cabinet change spread like a fire in a wind, particularly after the publication of the ruling party's news website published a news brief on the topic. Some sources in the ruling party confirmed the potential cabinet change while others denied that immediately.

I believe the change has become a significant demand for the donors that would like to see a strong and efficient government that is able to move ahead with required reforms and changes. The donors who committed themselves to pay over $4 billion towards development projects for five years argue that there must be a competent cabinet for their plans of boosting Yemen's economy to succeed. This desire is completely true because genuine change needs a strong and honest government, but it is not the government change that is the heart of the matter as much as it is the change of the mechanism in which the government handles things.

But what is most important in the change or reshuffle of the government? Is it the prime minister or the ministers? I understand that in some countries where governments have genuine power change it makes sense and becomes successful. In our case it is neither the prime minister nor the ministers that are powerful enough to lead change without the consent of the first man in the country.

We know that some of these ministers go months without communicating with the president while the big guys who run the country from behind curtains are more powerful than the ministers who receive orders from these influential people. Some ministers even exercise lip service to these guys just to ensure their stay in their portfolio.

In other words, a change of the prime minister or the ministers will not be fruitful as long as there is no strong political will to bring about any genuine and drastic change.

I know some good ministers have been successful in moving things forward in their ministries, but their power to introduce real changes remains limited due to the corrupt cronies at the decision-making core. These ministers who are willing to make a difference against the will of the influential cronies face hard times and by the end of the day tend to bow to the pressure as they realize the extent of the influence on the president and his decisions.

We remember after the reshuffle of Abdulqader Bajammal's cabinet the president gave a strong speech, warning these influential people of exploiting their positions to exercise pressure on the government officials. But since then none of these people have been held accountable.

It has become a norm that leading positions are given to some people as a reward and a source of enrichment. The ministers and other top officials know that if they abuse their power for self-enrichment and other forms of corruption, they will not be held accountable. The most severe punishment for them will be a seat in the Shoura council.

By and large, it is a strong political will and a direct support from the president himself that is mostly needed; it is accountability and transparency that would lead to a genuine change and not a replacement by that person. Ministers and any other government officials will do their job efficiently, if they are independent in their decisions, are held accountable for their actions.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.