Yemeni entrepreneur recounts life-story, describes bureaucracy as hurdle to foreign investment [Archives:2006/953/Reportage]

June 8 2006

YT: Please tell us something about your successful experience in the U.A.E.?

MA: Before I moved to the U.A.E., I worked in many jobs, the last one was at the tax authority where I came to know many Yemeni and foreign businessmen. Later, I obtained a visa to enter the U.A.E. in a visit to Dubai, with a sum of money equal to 150,000 (AED) and I started to think of investing this sum there. I started a company providing administrative services to institutions; with more efforts, the company expanded.

We tried our hands in other fields like importing, exporting, general agency, commercial mediation, land transport, and tourism services. Additionally, the company became an agent for many foreign airlines. We also founded the Najmat Aden Company for shipping, freight, and customs clearance. The company-moving goods from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, Europe, South Africa, Sudan, and Indonesia)has employed many agents and shipping lines.

YT: What are the reasons behind your heading to Emirates, rather than some other country?

MA: I was driven by ambition and the search for a prosperous future to move to the Emirates as working in Yemeni government is discouraging and full of complexities and routine. When I started working in the U.A.E., I parted with my family for more than three years and suffered a lot, but I had a goal to achieve: to find a better future.

In regard to selecting the Emirates, Dubai has become an important center for international trade for all international companies due to the wise leadership of Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who gave investors of all nationalities investment opportunities. Al Maktoum spread security and stability, important conditions for attracting investment from abroad. These reasons and many others make many entrepreneurs head to Dubai.

YT: What are the reasons for your interest in trade? Have you realized your ambitions?

MA: My interest in trade came from my father's work as a merchant, and through my constant interaction with merchants and investors during my life. This led me to have an integrated idea of all the rules and basics of trade. My trade ethics are built upon faithfulness in trade, as unfaithfulness soon leads to failure. Honesty is important for success in commercial enterprises. Moreover, honesty and faithfulness are part and parcel of Islam. Having clear and transparent transactions will make you perform quickly and it will not hinder your progress while unfaithful dealings will cause you more problems and difficulties.

Regarding my ambition, I have undoubtedly achieved my ambitions. Yet, I have more ambitions, as I dream of an even better future with no hardships whether in Yemen or in the Emirates. As a Yemeni expatriate and businessman talking on behalf of businessmen in general, I wish to have more facilities in accordance with President Saleh's directives, aiming at phasing-out ineffectual routines that stall investment and eliminating difficulties so that Yemeni expatriates can reasonably invest in their homeland.

YT: As an emigrant Yemeni businessman, have you implemented any projects in your homeland?

MA: I want to assure you that I have had an old ambition to set-up many commercial projects in Yemen. Preparations have been made to set-up a chain of hotels in Aden and Taiz. I got support and facilities from President Saleh who directed the respective authorities to grant me a piece of land to set up my project. However, we were faced with a stifling bureaucratic process, making investors pointlessly circle between different government offices. There is interplay between these administrations that makes investors feel insecure.

Moreover, many government offices lacking modern methods and are directed by those seeking personal aggrandizement above all else, thus creating a poor environment to woo investment to Yemen. As for myself, I was granted a piece of land on the Abyan coast, but was compelled to follow the directives of a plethora of bureaucracies, causing me to become quickly fed-up. Ultimately, the plan was suspended by the Construction Bureau of Aden. Being a Yemeni investor who knows both legal and illegal channels of getting things done, I felt awful. What would be the reactions of foreign investors, if my reaction was so bad? When an investor feels tired because of the overlap of authority between government agencies, he will choose to leave the country.

Unfortunately, an irritable employee at the investment bureau has the capacity to ruin the image of the country. I asked President Saleh to direct the respective authorities to consolidate into one investment authority and to close other channels of establishing business in Yemen. Investors need the rule of law and order to operate.

YT: Where do the problems lie exactly?

MA: Providing suitable soil for investment is, as I told you, a complex process that starts with a bold resolution to having an uncomplicated legal regime and attentive employees willing to serve their country. Such personnel should administer the investment process and facilitate matters not complicate them. They should also be highly qualified and trained as all of us know that traditional ways of administration are no longer acceptable in managing investments. We need qualified employees with the ability to make use of innovative technologies like computers.

Investment sites should be clearly defined and maps detailing the extent of the sites should accompany their ownership as is the case across the world. Dubai is the best example in dealing with foreign investment, as it has attracted capital from across the world and has become one of the biggest cities attracting such investment.

I want also to assure you that the problem does not lie solely in legal provisions made to regulate investment as we have one of the best legal systems in the world. Rather, the problem manifests itself in the existence of corruption, which has warped the investment environment in Yemen. Furthermore, to have a better future for investment, we have to give the employee a gratifying salary in order to meet his needs and reflect his efforts on the job.

YT: Why have you focused on diagnosing the investment problem in Aden?

MA: I concentrated on Aden because it is the gateway for the upcoming investments in Yemen. Such investment could create thousands of jobs for the unemployed. Its location qualifies it to be one of the most important Yemeni cities, so why do we cripple it with people who fail to recognize its significance?

Other Yemeni cities do not suffer from such problems. For instance, the Hadramawt has more facilities for investment. The problem with Aden lies in the investment administration where most investors prefer to invest. Some of the malfeasant conduct of officials in Aden is not known to officials in Sana'a. I assure you that most Yemeni expatriates who considered investing in Yemen have been shocked by such conduct that demonstrate a substantial ignorance on the part of investment officials. Expatriate businessmen said that they were encouraged by the president's calls for investment in Yemen, but most officials do not understand that and these officials are unable to carry-out a wise policy.

YT: Currently, you direct businesses in Dubai and previously you worked in Yemen. What are some comparisons you can make?

MA: There is a big difference between the two countries, for Dubai is one of the most investment-attractive cities in the whole world and it has surpassed many significant cities. It is also a place where one can accomplish his ambitions, particularly in the field of business. Dubai allows businessmen to have more commercial relations through a lot of conferences and international festivals held there. All these activities exist due to the rule of law and order. In Yemen, we lack such fertile ground for investment to plant its roots and what is needed is willingness for our country to excel. I ask officials to help achieve that end.

YT: In spite of the difficulties facing investors in Yemen, will you continue to try to invest there?

MA: Surely, for I love my country and I will not set it back. Employees are not the same as they were and we have some good ones, but they lack their opportunity. Additionally, the president's call is what has encouraged me most to continue. I want to make many projects that can provide jobs for unemployed graduates. I ask President Saleh, together with high ranking officials, to fight corruption and to dismiss all employees that have proven unable to further Yemen's desire to attract foreign capital, as businessmen are fed-up with such employees.

Officials should focus on improving investment management and on being the magnet that attracts capital to Yemen. Yemeni expatriates will feel a sense of pride in developing projects in their homeland. Yet, all too often they are faced with many difficulties and problems, causing them to abandon the idea altogether.