When the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer [Archives:2000/33/Focus]

August 14 2000

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
“I am packing my bags and leaving!” said Yahya to his cousin Ali, who had just come to visit his cousin, Yahya’s wife.
“But, where are you going?” asked Ali.
Yahya responded: “It does not matter, anywhere is bound to be better than here. It is written that success for Yemenis only comes outside of Yemen. So, if they have any ambitions or aspirations, they better forget about finding them here.”
Yahya’s wife came in with her opening talk: Look Yahya, there is no where to go to stake out a fortune these days. What you said was right a few years ago, but now all the doors are closed. Besides, you don’t have enough money to buy the application for the passport, let alone the airline ticket to wherever you want to go.”Ali retorted for Yahya: “If you have the determination to do something you can get it done. Once you decide to go at it, you will start to see things happen. I say Yahya, if you really have your heart set on going, then carry on and you will see your dream come true. Tell me where Rae you going again?”Yahya’s wife came in with the refreshments: “Here, Ali, you are lucky you visited us at the start of the month, there is no way you could see these glasses full of anything, but hard water! You see, on Yahya’s salary, we have exactly 4 days of normal sustenance after paying the electricity and water bills. Bear in mind, this is only because the kids are on their summer vacation, and we do not have to worry about their transport costs to school. As for their allowance, that was taken out of the budget long ago. They are now forced to sell goods at the intersections to be able to come up with whatever they can for their candy.”Yahya knew his wife had a knack for carrying on a unilateral conversation all day if nobody stopped her: “You see what I mean, Ali? It just seems to get harder and harder as we go on. Every time we see something that raises our hopes, we later find it to be continued propaganda from the government. Myself, I have given up hope a long time ago. My only hopes lie outside the borders of this rugged land. How can anyone be creative or innovative when someone has to spend 25 days of the month struggling to meet very basic sustenance needs for him and the family. Transport to work has even become a problem, especially for us who live so far from work.”Ali came back into the conversation: Didn’t they just approve a raise for government employees last week? Would not that be of any help in your struggle to make ends meet?””Who are you kidding?” asked Yahya, continuing: “First of all they are the reasons we are like this: They first let our currency become nothing more than speculative game for the plunderers, who have taken everything from above and below the ground for themselves, without providing any avenues of access for conscientious people to strive honestly to make a living. Then they subsidize basic commodities, just so the rich can get richer. After that, they say the World Bank says, ‘Sorry folks, no more subsidies!’; then they say that we cannot give you raises to meet inflation increases, because the budget needs to be curtailed; then they say the World Bank and the IMF say you got to liberalize trade, so prices on everything are made to float according to ‘supply and demand’, so our demand is there but what difference does it make if the market is flooded with the goods when the prices are so impossibly high, then they say, you have to improve performance and attend to work all day Ð until 3:00 PM, then they say that the World Bank says that the government has to lay off 200,000 military and civilian personnel in one shot. I can go on and on all day to explain the inconsistencies in what the government says and means. Of course, you should also bear in mind that they never feel any of the crunches most of the people in the country feel”.
Furdous has been waiting on edge for her chance to speak: “I remember my mother telling me, do not marry a government employee for two reasons: one if he is honest you will never see the light of a bright day. Second, if he is dishonest, you will never see a bright grave! Nevertheless, when we got married Yahya, even as a government employee was doing well and the first two kids had a good early life. However, all of a sudden things just started to fold under and our salary become worthless. For us, it was lucky we were able to build this modest house of ours. However, for many our friends they have had to live with a lot of what Yahya says and still pays rent. For sure, they could never provide refreshments to their visitors.”Ali tried to make some signs for hope: “Look most of our problems are tied to regional and international developments. Things on the regional and international level are now stabilizing, especially with the border pact signed with the Saudis.””There we go living on wishful thinking created by a regime that caterers only to the wishes of its minority constituency. Look at these people and the way they live. They are somewhere up there in fairy tale land, while most citizens live off the remains they leave as leftovers. The most affluent of the impoverished majority live off a can of artificially produced yogurt, every two days. It is really pathetic that they can ever be expected to dictate policy that the population can be guided by to relieve them from the poverty pit they have fallen into, when they were the ones who dug the pit for us.”Furdous added: “Ali, just who much do you think those raises they very reluctantly pass on the to the employees amount to; YR five hundred or even a thousand per month. That is hardly enough to meet the cost of sugar, which incidentally just rose by 30% this month. It is really like being tickled, when the government says that it is giving a 10% income boost to the civilian and military personnel”.
Ali added: “What makes all this worse is that one sees that there are a lot of government and military personnel managing to build sumptuous castles and drive around in the latest modern vehicles.”Yahya clarified: “No, they are not as much as you think when put in relative terms. They probably represent 2% of the entire government cadre. But these are the people who have found ways to beat the system and literally come up with all the money and luxuries they need to enjoy all the modern conveniences of the day.”His wife cut in again: If that is not enough, they also can manage two government paid vacations in the Bahamas with their kids a year, on the pretext of attending conferences or seminars that no one will ever ask them to report on anyway! It is really a horrible picture to make of a system that allows those who have staked their claim to its bounties to find no limit to the wealth they can plunder.”Ali came back into the conversation: “So tell me Ali, where are you going to and how?”Yahya responded: “If worse comes to worse I can always hijack a bus somewhere and walk off with the cash I need to start a life somewhere else. The government is ready to pay the ransom.”Ali and Furdous spoke at the same time: “No way! Look for some better alternative!”Yahya said: “What better alternative is there in a land that says no you cannot succeed here or that says this is the land where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”Furdous said: “What about the kids, Yahya?”Yahya: “The fear of God and those kids are about the only reason for continuing to want to live. As for the kids’ future, God knows what they will face, as they see their rich friends get richer and their poor friends get poorer.