The economy first [Archives:2004/780/Viewpoint]

October 11 2004

Every other day, people come to the conclusion that the country's economic development and increasing standards of living, should be the main priorities in terms of development.
Yemenis are currently suffering from one of the worst economic periods in their country's history. With massive unemployment (estimated at around 40%) and with the majority of the people living below poverty line, we are indeed in big trouble.
But, as if that is not enough, observers believe that the worst is still to come. Last month, business owners said that they received official documents requesting that sales taxes be paid to the Tax Authority on a regular basis from July. For them, this constitutes a huge blow to their profits and income levels. I remember one of the medium-size investors asking, “Is the state trying to get rid of us?”
The law that was passed by parliament was initially protested and rejected by thousands of businessmen around the country. But with the increasing pressure by the state, they had no other choice but to surrender. As a last resort, they have been forced to increase their prices by 10% or more.
Who is the victim in this case? Most probably, the victim is the regular citizen.
On the other hand, optimists think that more taxes will result in prosperity in the country in the long run, something that donors and the World Bank have been repeating. Such measures are considered economic reforms, and these reforms will require sacrifice for a certain period of time that may extend from a few years to a few decades.
But, for many families across the country, time is not on their side, as they simply cannot wait until the country's economy flourishes. For them, the promise of better times ahead, is a promise told many times in the past. What they end up with is more economic hardship and less income and food. One can recall the time around five or so years ago, when they were told that their lives would be better, but five years later their lives have ended up in a worse condition. Hence, it wouldn't be surprising if people don't believe that their prospects five years from now will be better than today.
But for us intellectuals who understand the challenges facing the country's economy such as the devastatingly high birth rate, the exhaustion of our natural resources including our water, and the ongoing corruption, we also would not be surprised if conditions in five years time are worse than they are today.
Yemeni expatriates who visit the country once in a while also express pessimism about the country's future as they come and see more deterioration in the economy every time.
It is evident that without a relatively acceptable standard of living, citizens will preoccupy their lives just to make ends meet. Many will resort to searching for alms and most will forget everything else but the ongoing struggle for their daily bread. They will go on for years trying to locate sources of income that would enable them to live and feed their children and grandchildren. This will reduce interest in political participation, social activities, voluntary work, and most important of all, education. With a generation lacking proper education and health, how can Yemen become a strong nation? A question that brings us back to the likelihood that those reforms may not lead the professed end result.
Yet again, that doesn't mean we need to feel desperate and surrender to death hopelessly. We need to realize that we can make a come back and prevent the realization of pessimist predictions and expectations. Who knows? Maybe a miracle will take place and Yemen's economy will stand up strong on its feet again and bring prosperity to the people.
It is a matter of fate, but of course our efforts contribute to forming it, and by not only dreaming but also by working hard to fulfill our dreams, we can have a better Yemen and a happy future.