Who is qrong, government or the critics? [Archives:2005/853/Opinion]

June 23 2005

The Editorial Board
Without a doubt, since governments are set up and managed by people, it would be unfair to suggest that governments must be perfect, precise and infallible. Moreover, government is an institution mandated by the people to undertake certain tasks and operations and to make sure that the affairs of the nation are managed astutely (not necessarily by government alone), that the territorial integrity of the nation is protected and that the people of the country enjoy the security, stability and peace they need to enable them to harness their energy for the enhancement of their standards of living and for advancing the welfare of the society. Furthermore, it has become an established concept in governance that to be thoroughly effective, government must operate in a fully transparent manner. This goes in conjunction with the obvious notion that those who serve in government must be subject to rigorous accountability; the good performers should be rewarded and honored and the non-performers, the corrupt and the exploiters of their government positions be put to question and punished for the consequences of their misdeeds. If these basic principles of sound governance are lived up to and fully understood by both those in government and the governed, then we have a viable social contract that will truly indicate that our society is mature, knows what statehood is all about and almost always inevitably manage to protect its resources, interests and more important its freedom from any domestic or external threat.

The Government of Yemen needs to realize that the foregoing are far from being a fact of life in Yemen and accordingly must seek to determine where its handicaps are vis a vis the principles of sound governance. On the other hand, the Government of a democratic society must be ready and receptive to criticism and not consider any critical statements coming from those outside its intricate labyrinth of political and social framework as tantamount to treason.

Most Yemenis are not easily fooled anymore by the overtaxed media and public information organs of the government, working night and day to illuminate the great achievements of the government and lashing out at all criticism with the harshest of diatribes and innuendos. Thus, it is somewhat ridiculous to tell the people, you live in a democratic country, but don't you dare question the infallibility of the state. Furthermore, it is ridiculous to remind us that the Government was kind enough to grant the people the right of free speech and opinion. But then the Government sets thresholds for use of these privileges that protect officials from any public expression of disapproval for their misdeeds or incompetence, not necessarily by statute or official regulations, but through such tactics as using the numerous official and quasi official press organs to lash out against critics, not to mention the apparatus of the state to transgress on the very rights and privileges which the Government continuously reminds us that it has granted to the people out of the kindness of its heart. One cannot help but seek to determine the wisdom of the latest efforts by the Government to insist upon its infallibility and its constant reminders that it has done so much for us that there is really no room for criticism! Nothing is further from the truth Our society is suffering from many ailments that certainly need attention and all the many billions of Yemeni Riyals that the Government continuously reminds us it has spent on this or that project are doing very little to hide this inescapable fact of life. The Government needs to understand that it is not fully adhering to all the principles of sound governance delved into above when we take a look at all the persistent problems facing the country and do not apply the element of oversight over government functions. This oversight should not be expected to work effectively if it comes from within the government alone (i.e. Parliament, regulator agencies, etc). Civil society in all its manifestations is the only effective source of watchdog protection that will ensure government adherence to sound governance.

We have had so many chronic problems that seem to be solution defiant, because the government has not really taken the appropriate measures to remedy them: land ownership disputes, tribal feuds, a notorious level of widespread corruption, difficult access to services and resources for most people, etc.) Some of these problems have lasted for years, if not decades, but no real remedial efforts have been exerted to clear them. That is what is bringing about so much criticism against government. Lashing out against critics is not the defense that government needs to curtail criticism. Effective government would be more in order and there is no harm in Government listening to what people have to say about its functions and performance. Public criticism is a common tool of democratic practice and if Government is not ready to accept it, then it should not insist that it has given us democracy on a silver platter, if it is not ready to let democracy work towards pursuit of the badly and urgently needed improvement of government performance.