What Yemen Expects from Bajammal [Archives:2001/15/Focus]
Abdullah Al Rahim
The time for fresh blood and fresh ideas has come. The appointment of Mr. Bajamal to form the next government, we are told, offers us precisely that. But rather than speculating about how the fresh blood will be injected into the government and what exactly those fresh ideas are, in order to avoid disappointment later; and also to be fair to Mr. Bajamal, we must let him know what the country expects from his incoming administration.
Mr. Bajamal can immediately start by working to strengthen the judiciary’s independence, and the right of an individual by ensuring that one should be deemed innocent until proven guilty. This is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society, which respects the rule of law. There can be no compromise on this basic tenet. The judiciary must be made up of qualified people whose integrity and impartiality is beyond a shadow of a doubt. The society must be able to trust and look up to those who implement the law and dispense justice. The judiciary must not only fulfill this trust, but be clearly seen to be doing so.
Mr. Bajamal must also strengthen the freedom of the press. Journalism is not just a matter of reporting the news, but in fact, and perhaps more important, it must be a practice of investigative journalism. Corruption, abuse of power, incompetence and other unhealthy practices thrive in the absence of a free and investigative press. Again, the society must be able to trust the press to be its watchdog.
Armed and supported by an independent judiciary and a free press, Mr. Bajamal must then embark on an anti-corruption jihad within the government. Corruption, like any other form of cancer, cannot be remedied; it must be removed, mercilessly.
To make such a jihad meaningful, Mr. Bajamal must lead by example and therefore insist upon himself and every one of his cabinet colleagues, to declare any personal business interests they have prior to taking office, and then disassociate themselves from the running of their personal businesses. Having done so, that particular individual must, as long as he holds office, withdraw from any decision related to the sector of the economy in which he has an interest. This is what is called transparency and avoiding a conflict of interest. The minister can always go back to being a businessman when he leaves office. But the two functions cannot, and should not , be allowed to run concurrently.
Mr. Bajamal must also ensure that the government has no monetary policy-setting role. This is the function of the Central Bank, which must be independent from the government. Mr. Bajamal must not confused between economic policy-setting, which is a government function, and monetary policy-setting, which is not a government function.
Moreover, preserving the value of the Yemeni Riyal and controlling inflation are not the functions of the government, but that of the Central Bank. The two must have clearly demarcated lines. The Governor of the Central Bank has no business in attending cabinet meetings and the government has no business in being represented in the board of directors of the Central Bank.
Our youth, a big proportion of whom are roaming in the streets, must be directed in a productive way with institutions and programs to cater for their needs. There is no denying the benefits of Internet cafes, but more diversification is needed.
Moreover, with almost 50% of our pupils dropping out of school before grade 9, illiteracy reaching almost 60% and health services access limited to only 55% of the population, there are serious threats to the future of Yemen unless serious and immediate programs are initiated.
With regard to social programs targeted towards our youth, Mr. Bajamal can lobby the wealthy members of our society and the larger private sector companies for funding.
This youthful energy, if it is not properly used by us will be improperly abused by others.
Mr. Bajamal must also pay attention to the very serious problem created by the free access to arms in our country. An incentive based program “domestic disarmament” must be initiated to withdraw arms from the citizens. The government can offer to buy back weapons from citizens within a prescribed time frame. Thereafter, weapons must be confiscated and the government must prosecute those who still clandestinely retain weapons.
The European Union and the United Nations, both of whom have a direct vested interest in the stability of Yemen, could be approached to fund the weapons buy back program. Another source of funding could be the government’s own military budget. The government could decide to reduce its overseas shopping list for military hardware and divert the savings to the weapons buy back program in Yemen.
Qat is another problem in our society. But until the government is able to offer alternative employment opportunities to the thousands employed in the Qat industry, any effort to solve the Qat problem will prove ineffective.
Mr. Bajamal can also lead the country towards a more restrained foreign policy. Yemen does not have the resources to be involved in every foreign policy issue or crises. We have to take a breather and adopt a more inward looking policy that puts the interests of Yemen first and foremost. We must recognize our limitations and status. There is a lot of cleaning to be done in our own backyard and our tools are limited. Perhaps Mr. Bajamal can lead us to a more selfish, but wiser use of these limited tools. Our foreign policy must now become less politically oriented and instead it must be a tool of our economic development. We must focus more and more towards those countries that can contribute to our economic objectives. In the long run this will not only help us, but our brothers in the Islamic and Arab world as well. A strong and developed Yemen is more useful to its brothers than the presently weak and underdeveloped Yemen.
If Mr. Bajamal can meet these expectations, he would then retire as one of our finest Prime Ministers. On the other hand, if none of these issues figure into his agenda, then perhaps the cabinet re-shuffle is nothing more than just a shuffling of chairs and faces.
But also to be fair to Mr. Bajamal, we must insist that the President gives Mr. Bajamal the full support of his presidential prestige and the powers of his office. The President has appointed the Prime Minister, now the President must let the Prime Minister do his job. The President must ensure that the Prime Minister is not cut off at his knees.