What Have LCs Achieved So Far? [Archives:2001/26/Reportage]

June 25 2001

Imad Al-Saqqaf 
Taiz Bureau Chief 
Yemen Times 
What have the local councils achieved so far? Are there any indications that they will succeed in meeting people’s expectations? Will the GPC provide more projects and services to ensure people’s prosperity and welfare through these councils? In other words, can one consider the local governance a serious democratic step towards real development? Or will it be an additional burden on the people? More important, were the local council election fair and what do politicians say about them? 
Evaluation of the Elections 
The opposition parties felt doubtful about the fairness of the election process owing to the exploitation of government machinery, media and the army as a winning card by the GPC. These parties believe, despite all these corrupt practices, that they were able to win the people’s support and respect by which they could win a small number of seats. Therefore, the election results do not necessarily reflect the strength of the parties. 
The elections were not fair, said Jarallah Omar, Assistant Secretary General of Yemen Socialist Party (YSP). Fair elections can be ensured if a number of measures are taken, he added. These are: providing a chance for the opposition parties to be a third party beside the GPC and Islah. This can be achievable by the Opposition Coordination Council, reconsidering and correcting lists of voters, availability of local as well as foreign monitoring from the beginning, forming an impartial election council from the GPC, Islah and the Opposition Coordination Council, ensuring impartiality of the army, media and public agencies. But the most important step is the separation of the state from the GPC which requires the resignation of the President from Chairing the GPC so that parties can be equal. Mohammed Ahmad Al-Hajj, Secretary General of the Local Council in Taiz, member of the GPC, said that the local councils were a pioneering step that would strengthen democracy in our society. “The constitution ensures people’s right to elect the President, their representatives in the parliament and local councils. The local councils are supposed to shoulder the monitoring role for the implementation of the laws, participate in the management of local affairs, outline development plans and programs, etc. If these authorities are properly managed and if all the agencies concerned are committed to respecting those laws, there will be a development and administrative revolution. Such an experience will help correct a lot of administrative shortcomings.” Mr. Al-Hajj expressed hopes for a more privileged local governance. Shawqi Ahmad Hayel, Chairman of the Planning, Development and Financial Committee at the Local Council in Taiz said that despite what has been wrongly said about the local councils , they are very successful and are considered an advanced step towards a more solid and true democracy. One should not forget the fact that the experience of democracy in general, and local councils in particular is still new to the Yemeni society, he added. 
Evaluating the democratic experience as represented by the local council elections, Jameel Al-Suraimi, member of the Permanent Committee of the GPC, said that despite the great volume of illiteracy, 50% among men and 80% among women, the dictatorial regimes that Yemen has passed through, the Arab neighborhood surrounding Yemen which has no sense of democracy, lack of active NGOs, etc., I can proudly say that we are holding an advanced position in comparison to our surroundings. There were some shortcomings in the functioning of some of the electoral committees, exploitation of public property and media, but we are sure that in the future this experience will help us free the election of shortcomings. This will not be achieved, of course, unless all government, opposition and public efforts are put together. 
Al-Suraimi urged upon the people to promote and practice democratic values. 

Will they Succeed? 
During the next 2 years, can these elected local councils make real changes, improve cities and services? What can they do for the people? Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Al-Hajj believed that the local councils will play a pivotal role in the improvement of cities, and public services in both the urban and rural areas. This will limit and minimize the exodus of village folk to cities. “We should not expect everything to be done during the first few months or during the first year. The experience is still new, but we are hopeful and optimistic that Local Councils will be able, during these two years, to achieve a lot under the leadership and patronage of President Ali Abdullah Saleh,” he added. Mr.. Shawqi Ahmad Hayel described the period of Local Councils as experimental. “They can achieve success if their work and priorities are organized, and the available resources are properly exploited,” he added. 
Mr. Jamal Al-Razi, Islah party, Secretary General of the Local Council of the Salah District said: “All of us should be aware that the role of the local councils is a significant one. But the short period may not enable them to play their role effectively in the society. We look at this experience as a beginning for the establishment of a real local governance in Yemen. I am sure that once there is sincere, committed work and joint efforts, we will be able to make good changes.”Many people seem to agree with the fact that the short period before the local councils, two years, is not enough to make big changes. “Especially because they do not have the basic resources to enable them to move in all directions,” said Al-Suraimi. He added that people are eager to see the experience of local councils as success for a number of reasons: they have lost confidence in the executive authorities to improve service, especially in the fields of electricity, water, health, sanitation, and proper monitoring of these activities by the executive authorities. People and traders have shown a readiness and desire to support the local councils in order to achieve real development. 
What have they achieved so far? 
The Yemeni cities lack good health services and clean streets. In a city like Taiz water is supplied to houses once a month and electricity is always cut off in many areas for more than 2 hours. The situation is worse in the countryside where there is none of these services. Therefore, the responsibility of the Local Councils will be more in the countryside than in cities. Mohammed Ahmad Al-Hajj said that they had many projects to follow up in fields of roads, electricity, water, health, etc. Mr. Shawqi Ahmad Hayel thinks that it is still too early to ask such a question. 
All the people we have met expressed enthusiasm and optimism that the Local Councils have a bright future in the sense that they will strengthen the roots of democracy in our society, allow wider public participation in the decision making process, limit and minimize centralization, achieve a certain kind of fairness in the distribution of services in all the Yemeni areas, and so forth.