Who is paying the bill for corruption? [Archives:2006/943/Opinion]

May 4 2006

By: Ismail Al-Ghabri
To the keen observer, a series of events since 1990 serves as a backdrop to corruption, its origins, its rise within society, and its continued deep-rooted pervasiveness in government bodies.

During Yemen's governmental transitional period, wide-spread corruption was justified as the price for its reunification. We can consider it a time of anarchy. The most dominant of manifest corruption was the negative legacy passed on from the ex-ruling parties of the North and the South. This was particularly so in the socialist party of the South with its diversified structure, its committee and sub-committee hierarchies, and its political offices that burdened the new Government with tremendous employment requirements.

Thousands of employees, holding positions in the days of the ruling socialist regime, while affiliated to different political parties were to maintain the same privileges. Along with other top officials they were to occupy different posts within the new Government structure even if there wasn't a real place available for them. All this was just a means to appease the various upcoming political affiliations.

This weighed heavily on the government's General Budget, adding to the state of anarchy and corruption that deeply cut across government sectors. It hindered, if not paralyzed, the course of social and economic development as the situation grew from bad to worse during the Government's transitional phase in reunified Yemen. It was incapable of leading successful financial strategic plans for two consecutive years. The government's General Budget could barely afford its payroll and other monetary obligations for its public sector employees.

After Gulf War I broke out in 1990, the situation got gloomier with the country's economy reflecting the negative consequences of thousands of expatriates forced back to Yemen. This caused massive waves of unemployment. Adding insult to injury, Yemen underwent an economic boycott by Gulf States. Their financial assistance ceased following Yemen's expressed attitudes on the war in Iraq.

This tragic scene was vividly orchestrated as Yemen's Anti-Secessionist War in 1994 broke out. The war would seriously damage an already weakened pillar of Yemen's economic infrastructure. As a result, the country suffered shortages in its financial resources. The National currency would sustain substantial losses, its value decreased. At the end of the War, the reserves available amounted to only nine million US Dollars, an indication of the country's economic crisis.

It is true that part of the war's justification lay behind the deterioration of the country's financial status. However, it was the permeating corruption within the fabric of the government that served as the real and insidious reason for war. One of the most overwhelming manifestations of corruption, since the very start of the transitional period, could be observed in the political arena. This corruption fed on the under-utilized National wealth and its public resources. Investors would, accordingly, hold their funds in abeyance provoking the private sector to also fall under the threatening wave of corruption.

After 1995 the situation witnessed a breakthrough. Economic reforms were strategically and effectively implemented. The country would go on to receive renewed support from donor countries and various international organizations. Nevertheless, it was not enough to jump start the country's economy. Corrupt figures within the government, still adhering to the same whimsical mentality of old, continued to have insatiable thirst for usurping public money. There would be no concrete results as long as these officials continued to enjoy the same old privileges and their round-about way of accessing public resources.

Prices of major commodities and food stuff jumped higher as the Government started lifting its support. The logical balance between market prices and the average individual income no longer existed. Corruption had spread to a person's daily life. The philosophy, in the Public sector, was to grow by making money “in your own style”. They indulged in acts of bribery as well as the illegal acquisition of bonuses and commissions. Senior officials within higher ranking governmental bodies would likewise exploit their positions to prosper and make large sums of money.

In 1996 the government would launch a five-year plan to execute development projects based on donor funds and loan agreements. The absence of watchful eyes and effective accountability systems within the government provided dishonest characters with the opportunity to manipulate the funds found in the Bidding and Contracting Units. From the mismanaged projects of road building, water and electrical supply distribution, and other services, there would appear a new class of rich rising from the abundance of funneled wealth.

This form of corruption has had a negative and distorted image of Yemen in the eyes of donor countries. They have started feeling disappointed and have threatened to re-consider their policies towards Yemen. The President of the Republic with his keen far-sightedness could intervene in time to tackle this controversial issue. His latest visit to China, for example, was aimed at brightening the foreign outlook towards our country and maintaining donor trust.

In an effort to cut illegal access to public resources, the President has ordered the establishment of an independent authority responsible for the bidding and contracting affairs. The government should also reconsider enacting special policies and procedures to uncover and combat the mishandling of tasks and positions by its officials.

Corruption's core problem is double faceted as it is both financial and administrative. It has been functioning in disguise for more than fifteen years without clear measures or definitions. A heated topic repeatedly used by the opposition to serve its politically motivated aims. The time is ripe, however, for more strategic and practical steps to uncover and literally dry out all sources of corruption in our country. It has become an imperative for the government and its opposition to unit their efforts in realizing effective mechanisms to combat all forms of corruption.

Ismail Al-Ghabri is a Yemeni journalist, working in Yemen Times for almost 14 years.