Hakim Al-Masmari: What does it mean to transform the current local authorities into a genuine local governance system?
Dr. Leonardo Romeo: It means creating a local authority which has both an elected local council – and this already the case today – and a chief executive officer accountable to them and this partially the case today. It means creating a local administration accountable to the council, an administration that can implement the decisions, programs and policies of the councils. The local councils in Yemen can partially make decisions and the decision-taking power is limited to capital expenditures,. They have no resources to allocate for recurrent expenditures. They can only allocate these capital resources for building local infrastructure, but have no ability to really influence the delivery of services at the local level.
HM: How would the vision of local governance meet the challenge converting the state and society in Yemen?
LR: I believe that decentralizing and improving local governance respond to some major challenges that Yemen is encountering today. The decentralization could help the country politically and from the development point of view. It can help to address the current problems: how to build the state at the periphery offering a way to build the state from the bottom up. It can help the state deal with local leaders, with tribal formations in a positive way, not trying to replace them but bringing them into the process of local governance. The decentralization could also help address the other big problems like the secessionist sentiments in South Yemen. The decentralization was a big part of the 1994 accords and a more decentralized country with greater local autonomy in the south could help diffuse the dangers of the country's break-up. It could also help address the major developmental problems of the country, which is to change the model relying greatly on oil and gas into a model more diffused spatially and diversified by sector. The decentralization could stimulate local economic development if local authorities are given the autonomy to promote local economic development through their own initiatives.
HM: Citizens complain that they do not benefit from the local councils?
LR: In order to have local councils as agents of development, you have to let them take responsibility for promoting development and manage resources . If you use them just as as consultative bodies and not as real policy makers to which the local administration is accountable, People will realize that they actually have no powers to deliver services to them and will continue not to take them seriously
HM: Are you trying to say that they are now useless?
LR: No. They are not useless, but they simply cannot respond to people’s expectations. If you go to the countryside and talk people and ask them what do they know about their council and what does your council do? What is it for? You will understand what I mean .This is something I did personally. I remember visiting a group of women who were complaining about a problem with solid waste in the Island of Socotra. I asked them why they do not protest with their local Councils. They did not even know that it is the Council's responsibility. Councils y are perceived as useless because there is very little they can do and their presence is not felt by people as agents responsible for service delivery to whom people can go and demand services. Service delivery, as I said before, is entirely the responsibility of the so called executive organs of the state administration at the local level.
HM: What challenges confront the Yemeni government in its efforts to improve the local governance?
LR: I believe the political leadership is committed to the decentralization and to really push for the implementation of these reforms. You have to remember one thing: the decentralization has been on the agenda for many years and we are talking properly of 25 years. Only in 2000, a law for local authority was developed and once developed nothing happened to implement it. It seems that it has been pushed at a certain moment of the life of the country by the politicians who see the political advantages of the decentralization. But the reforms immediately got bogged down because of the resistances of the administration. Sometimes the worst resistance has come from those who are supposed to implement and to push the decentralization reforms. The first challenge the Yemeni leadership has is to really take high level and personal responsibility for the implementation of the decentralization reforms. The country needs the President to nominate a sort of Czar for the decentralization as his own envoy and his own man with powers of coordinating across ministries in order to push this agenda. A single ministry could not push these reforms. It is either the President or Prime Minister Office and they could nominate somebody directly accountable to the President to coordinate the implementation of these reforms. The challenges are of three types: the challenge of developing a new set of legal and constitutional amendments, and a new set of legal instruments and regulations as well as policies for sectoral and fiscal decentralization. There is a whole area of policy legal reform instruments to produce. It will not be easy; it will be a long process. This is the easiest thing with revising the legislation and the even constitution. I am saying the constitution for one reason because there is language that restricts and prevents the standing of the local authority system. It says the local authority is an integral part of state administration, while they should be understood as an autonomous system operating within the frame of the national law, but with its own legislative, executive and administrative organs distinct from those of the state's central administration. There will be a need for constitutional amendments and some legal reforms. Then there will be a need of huge efforts for capacity building and institutional building at the local level and finally there will be a need for injecting much more resources in the newly born local governance system than what is done today. This can be achieved through better fiscal transfer system and the reorientation to the financing of local authorities of major national program like the Social Fund, the Public Works Programs and other donor-supported programs.
HM: Who is responsible for current slow growth of local governance in Yemen?
LR: I do not think that there is a single person that you can say is responsible for stopping the decentralization reforms. What I, however, feel – as I said before – is that the process will not be advanced if it is not led by somehow directly by the President or Prime Minister Office as there are many resistances of sector ministries and these are known and typical. There are resistances to delegate and devolve their powers and there are resistances by the Ministry of Finance in terms of shifting money from the ministry to the local councils and there will be resistances even inside the Ministry of Local Administration which may be tempted to take a more direct role in promoting local development instead of developing its own identity and capacity to do what it is supposed to do, which is not Local development (this is what the local governments should do) , but becoming a ministry with real capacity to support and supervise an autonomous system of local authority on behalf of the state. The Ministry of Local Administration is toying with the idea of delivering local development while it should focus, instead, on its ability to support and supervise local governments to do that. In other terms, it should work to provide technical a
ABOUT Yemen Post Publisher & Chief Editor:
Hakim Almasmari is an American journalist and Middle East expert based in Sana'a, Yemen. His work has appeared for many of the worlds top media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Washington Post, AlJazeera, Fox News, The Guardian, The National, USA Today among numerous others. He has also worked with some of the world’s top organizations. Reporting out of Yemen for nearly eight years, he is the current editor in chief for the Yemen Post. He is a university lecturer in the field of international media and also studied business and law. Considered one of the top experts on Yemen, Almasmari has closely worked with international strategic centers and think tanks helping them better understand Yemen. He is a frequent guest on many international TV outlets discussing current local and international affairs. Almasmari's ancestors are from Yemen, and was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. His mother tongue is English and is fluent in Arabic.