The business community and reform agenda [Archives:2007/1084/Opinion]

September 10 2007

By: Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Some are mistaken when they think that working for reform is the responsibility of politicians and civil society organizations who usually have no job to perform. Reform and democratization is no longer a luxury but an inevitability we all have to work to attain. Everybody has a stake and an interest in good governance, transparency, accountability, a fair and independent judiciary, professional and free media, fair and free elections and others. All these elements ensure that justice is achieved and human rights are well respected, which brings about a good environment for security and stability)politically and economically. Therefore, a coalition of reform activists and beneficiaries in the Arab countries must be set up involving joint work for both business and civil society organization leaders that should lobby for a positive change in their respective countries plagued with oppressive regimes. For the resolution of these issues, the “Broadening Coalition for Reform: Business and Civil Society Organizations Working Together for Change” workshop was organized by MEPI at the US State Department. Implemented by Beyster Institute, the event was supposed to take place in Yemen but for security reasons it was delayed and then moved to Jordan. I was invited to that important workshop where issues of reform and how to build partnerships and develop action plans for change were debated, but unfortunately I could not attend due to prior important engagements.

The business community should not stay off track and must get involved in such a long and arduous process that is the business of all of us in the Middle East. It is not an issue of ethical commitment only that the businessmen take part in this process, but rather it is a matter of interest to them. I would guess that many of you share with me the opinion that it is in the advantage of the businessmen to have good governance, fair and independent judiciary system, free media, and the rule of law. Some businessmen still think they should not poke their nose in politics only so much as it will appease the ruling regimes. However, businessmen in the region should no longer keep mute and just exercise lip service to authoritarian regimes as it is happening right now in most of the Arab countries. They should not keep themselves aside and must be a key partner in the overall drive for change.

Let us take, for instance, the match-up between the liberation of broadcast media and the interest of the business community in Yemen. The existence of a vocal professional and independent media is, of course, of interest to the businessmen as it will enable them to get their message and advertisements to their target audience efficiently instead of airing them through monotonous, state-monopolized broadcast media. Moreover, liberation of broadcast media will enable them to invest in this promising sector. In addition, the facilitation of free access to information will enable the professional media to address issues of corruption. Such corruption issues hit the majority of the businessmen like tenders, and bids which, if processed transparently and competitively, might be gained by the real professional businessmen rather than those clone ones protected by some of the big-wigs at the power center. It is also in the interest of the business community to have a professional media with a strong code of ethics that would protect it against some newspapers that blackmail them for advertisements. It is no doubt that the reform of such areas and others would be of benefit to both the business people and the public at large.

I understand some businessmen have an interest in the absence of law rule and accountability, and are furthermore prevalent to corruption. However, this is not a sustainable interest because it is not institutionalized and professional. In order to achieve the sustainable development everybody seeks to have, the business community should play a pivotal role in supporting reform and democratization agenda. Independent business can not flourish when a strong third party, in this case the government is calling the shots. It is in an environment of security, stability and political, economic and social peace attained only through reform and democratization that their businesses can prosper. Their role in boosting change is therefore unquestionable; in democracy exists the prosperity of the masses, including the businessmen.

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