The National Company for Tobacco and Matches and Stray Arrows [Archives:2000/04/Business & Economy]

January 24 2000

By: Mutahar Al-Ashmory
Of course, the budget of a state must be accurate in its figures and estimates. Discussion of every institution must be carefully studied through associating each year’s budget with that of the previous one. Proceeding from the fact that we have already entered the 21st century and the third millennium- an age of information, technology and computer- a stage that has overcome the possibility of committing mistakes in the state budget, then committing a mistake or let it happen is something regrettable, particularly in Yemen.
What has aroused my attention is a news regarding a tendency for the privatisation of the National Company for Tobacco and Matches “Kamaran”. As much as I was surprised by the new drive of privatization, I was astounded by the news that contained information in regard to the budget of the company. This information is presented by the Ministry of Finance indicating that the company has showed a mark-down in its revenues for 2000, estimated at YR10 million.
I have been very much interested in following the conditions of the company as part of my interest in the privatization campaign, especially regarding successful state institutions. I have written about privatization and said that privatizing the tobacco Company was a grave mistake implying a tendency against the public interest. Capitalist countries such as Canada or South Korea or Jordan usually makes the industry and importation of tobacco the responsibility of the state as its being considered a highly profitable merchandise. They may redouble cigarettes prices according to certain social policies.
However, with the statistics presented by the Ministry of Finance in the general budget, it becomes quite difficult to defend such a national establishment in the face of Privatization.
After weeks of investigation, I could uncover the underlying mystery of this puzzle that agitates me for a while. It was a grave mistake made by the Ministry of Finance and its staff who used figures different from those presented by the company. These figures are far much different, for billions were replaced by millions and millions and thousands by hundreds and by very small coins. I can’t say for certain whether this mistake was done intentionally or was an oversight. However, what is apparent is that this has negatively affected the public sector and has been used much for the privatization drive which appears like a monster eating away many successful organizations of the public sector. The news was not a mistaken on, but unfortunately it was based and derived from wrong information given in the state budget presented to the parliament.
It is true that we have stepped into the third millennium that is characterized by and considered to be the age of information, technology and computer. This makes the possibility of making such mistakes very unlikely to happen. However, making such a mistake and in the general budget of the state is a sorrowful event and means a lot, for it may have never happened in the 19th century.
Any accountant or a trainee in the financial or accounting work would never believe the revenues of a company go down from YR 11 billions to YR 1 billion within a year. It is also quite unbelievable that a public organization spends and earns YR1 billion. What is more unreasonable and unacceptable that such procedures and standards used in discussing budgets to be ratified, are adopted by the ministry of finance and its experts.
The real budget of the company for 2000 presented to the Ministry of Finance was YR11,126, 000,000. This means that there was not any kind of fall back in the company’s activities nor a slump in its revenues. On the contrary, the activities have prospered and developed, especially as Mr. Tawfeek Saleh, a qualified and competent personality, is the chairman of its board of directors.
As we are dealing with a very important issue of public interest, I very much trust Mr. Alawi Al-Salami, minister of Finance who has showed his understanding of this horrible mistake. He made those responsible for it hold accounted. He has also followed the procedures to correct the mistake and to make a new report that would be presented to the Parliament. Though this won’t compensate the harm that has befallen the company, it will disclose a fact and prove that the public sector is not at all that depicted failure, and that what it needs is sincere people and commitment.
What has happened may be the result of “privatization drive” plague that tends to spoil all the successful organizations of the public sector.
What I want to stress in this context is that we are not against privatization , as a modern economic concept, but refuse to use it as a slogan to destroy the public interest, as it was about to happen to the National Tobacco and Matches Company. Irrespective of all the aggressive campaign launched against the company, we express our appreciation of the good efforts and achievements of the Administration of the company and all its workers.
From Al-Thawrah Newspaper