This is an OPINION page. [Archives:1997/49/Focus]

December 8 1997

Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue! Civil Servants & Corruption in Yemen
By: Dr. Salah Haddash*
Yemen, like many other countries, suffer from many administrative faults, especially in the public sector. One of these problems or faults is corruption, especially bribery which is the subject of this article. The phenomenon of corruption, its causes and consequences, the legislation combating this crime, and the proposed solutions are covered here. The new government’s program emphasizes the fact that in order to establish the institutions of a democratic state, the government continues the efforts of combating all kinds of corruption in the administrative apparatus.
The Phenomenon Corruption can be divided into two types: 1- Petty corruption practiced by civil servants; and 2- Grand corruption practiced by senior public officials who can be decision makers. This article deals mainly with petty corruption, not with grand corruption which is more complicated and difficult to prove. It is usually connected with major public projects and often involves foreign parties. In Yemen, concluding any dealing with officialdom takes a long time, if certain payments are not made. In fact, some civil servants have people working for them as middlemen, getting bribes from the citizens. The paid amount is usually distributed among the people involved in completing the paperwork. The amount is not fixed, but depends on the subject and type of paperwork involved. If the citizen is expecting to receive some money then the bribe’s amount is raised further. When no payment is made and the paperwork is delayed by a corrupt official, a superior official would not intervene to help the concerned citizen. In other words, none of the corrupt civil servants is accountable for deliberately blocking the citizens’ interests. Bribery has become deeply rooted in the administrative apparatus and culture in Yemen. It has become an institution implicitly recognized and accepted by the Yemeni society.
The Causes Civil servants are not well paid. For example, a recently employed university graduate receives a monthly salary of YR 8,000. This salary is so low to the extent of not covering the minimum of life’s necessities. It is important to show how much an average civil servant would need for his and his family’s expenditure. 1- The average house rent in Sanaa, for instance, is not less than YR 5,000 a month. 2- Daily transportation to and from work costs an average of YR 40 a day, which amounts to YR 1,200 a month. 3- Food for an average family costs about YR 500 a day, which amounts to YR 15,000 per month. 4- Electricity, water, and telephone bills cost around YR 1,500 a month. 5- Extra expenditures are also incurred in cases of illness and essential medical care. There is no social security system in Yemen. 6- School fees and pocket money for the children amount to a lot due to the fact that most Yemeni families are quite large. State schools are declining in standards so people tend to send their children to private schools. The minimum cost of private school fees is around YR 1,500 a month for each child. 7- Recreation activities such as the very popular qat chewing cost on average a daily minimum of YR 150 (YR 4,500 a month). A packet of cigarettes, another favorite of Yemenis, costs YR 80 (YR 2,400 a month). So an average civil servant would need about YR 32,000 a month to cover the minimum of living expenses. To solve this problem, a civil servant would use two solutions. Some employees work in different places at the same time. They sign their names in the morning at the regular place of employment, and then go to work somewhere else. Or sign the whole month in advance in collusion with the personnel administrator. Other employees work in the afternoon. The civil service law prohibits civil servants from doing extra jobs. This clause of the law, however, is not respected due to the life’s difficulties. In order to increase their income, other employees receive bribes. They are encouraged by the fact that there has never been a court case of corruption reaching a final verdict. This goes on in spite of much talk by the officials and official media about combating corruption in Yemen. Also, there is no positive role model to be emulated in this respect.
The Consequences There are many negative consequences for corruption such as civil servants simply obstructing the day-to-day administrative process. They blackmail people and make them pay bribes. People may lose some of their rights due to the delays experienced in their paperwork. Bribery frustrates the people and reflects a negative image of the country. Also, the ill-gotten money gained through bribery represents a growing invisible economy whereby some civil servants get an income for which they have not made any positive efforts. It is often noticed that some civil servants with ostensibly limited monthly salaries are able to buy real estates, cars, send their children to expensive private schools, chew the best quality qat on daily basis, frequently travel abroad as tourists, and indulge in other luxuries.
Corruption & Penal Law The crime of corruption in Yemen is covered by the Crimes and Punishments Law No. 12 of 1994 (penal code). However, this law does not offer a specific definition for the word corruption within its general definitions in the first chapter. Reviewing the chapter concerned with bribery, a definition of bribery can be gleaned. It is any demand, present, privilege, or promise received by a any civil servant in return for doing, or refraining from, a certain act which contravenes the employee’s official duty. The punishment for such a crime, as specified by the above law, is imprisonment for not more than ten years. If one of the parties involved in such a crime informs the administrative or judicial authorities, then that party will be pardoned (Article 151). The crime of bribery is also extended to the civil servant who demands money or other favors after doing or refraining from doing a certain act. The punishment of such a crime is imprisonment for not more than seven years (Article 153). If a person offers a public servant a present, a privilege, or a promise thereof for doing or refraining from a certain act, then that person is punished with imprisonment for not more than three years (Article 154). In all cases of bribery, the court can confiscate all the money or handouts involved in the bribe (Article 161). There are other articles in this law related to bribery, but the above are the most relevant.
Solutions * The penal law must be fully, comprehensively and impartially enforced. All known corrupt public servants must be tried and sentenced by the penal courts. * A continuous media campaign must be waged against corruption in general to raise public awareness of this issue. * Special volunteer and official committees must be formed to detect, investigate, and report instances of corruption. * Government salaries must be proportionately increased with the actual cost of living. * The central control and audit apparatus must be more effective in uncovering cases of corruption and misuse of power. * All persons involved in corruption must be tried in accordance with the enacted laws.
____________________ * Dr. Salah Haddash has a Ph.D. in law from France. He is currently the managing editor of Yemen Times, and assistant professor at Sanaa University.