The importance of a national local governance strategy [Archives:2008/1208/Viewpoint]

November 17 2008

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
Yemen is one of the first countries in the Arabian Peninsula to have moved towards a decentralized system, both administratively and financially. Yet, although the local administration law was issued in 2001, many bureaucratic and cultural handicaps in government and its various agencies have not allowed it to be implemented.

Ali Abdullah Saleh's presidential campaign stressed the importance of giving more authority to local administrations. Slowly, this concept has been pushing its way forward, especially through efforts of the Ministry of Local Administration and members of the cabinet.

The problem facing transition is twofold. First is the lack of classification or exact job descriptions to define the capacities and limits of different authorities on the central and local levels. The line between the roles and authorities of the central governance system and local government organizations in practice is very blurred, and explains the mixing of roles as well as the many arguments resulting from it.

The second issue is the nature of both the governing system and civil society. People in authority are having trouble yielding power and allowing others to be real partners in decision making and implementation. At the same time, civil society is reluctant to embrace its new role as partner and to hold the system accountable to them as representatives of the community.

The journey of civil society organizations in Yemen has gone through three phases since the early seventies when they were just considered as charities giving direct aid to the poor. Civil society made the transition from mere aid providers to development organizations that helped local communities generate income by learning skills and improving their capacities.

Today, civil society is venturing into its third phase. Civil society organizations nowadays not only provide aid and build capacity, but are also tools for social change and empowerment. They are considered to be a partner in governance and hence are the voices of the communities in their demand for a better environment or in reflecting what they believe the priorities of national policies should be.

It is quite essential to support the Local Administration Ministry today in its endeavor towards an effective decentralized system. Government agencies, civil society and donors should focus their attention on this strategy and assist the transition process because this is the way forward for Yemen's development and stability on all fronts.