BY Asma al-Mohattwari
Most Yemeni economists agree that Yemen does not lack money. What Yemen does lack is an ability to absorb the money received from foreign aid. Yemen has little ability to spend granted funds according to elaborate, deliberate plans on meaningful projects, or in ways that positively help the Yemeni people achieve their objectives of dignified living.
In 2013, the number of civil society organizations (CSO’s) in Yemen greatly increased. CSO’s exists under various names, most of which serve the supporter, and not the individual or the society. The increased number of CSO’s does not mean that all of them have noble objectives or seek to benefit society. On the contrary, the only objective for some of those organizations is to augment their bank accounts.
More than 8000 CSO’s in Yemen receive millions of dollars in foreign aid aimed to contribute to Yemen’s development eradicating poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and malnutrition. But the reality says the opposite: research studies show that 62% of the Yemeni population remains illiterate, 60% are unemployed, 54% are suffering from poverty and more than one million Yemeni children suffer from malnutrition.
“The higher the number of organizations, the more the humanitarian situation in Yemen deteriorates,” or so Hemyar al-Moqbily, activist, expressed his disapproval of expanding CSO corruption.
According to al-Moqbily, many CSO’s violate rights instead of defending them. The CSO business has become a moneymaking profession, and many CSO managers have abandoned humanitarianism in order to benefit their interests. Al-Moqbily pointed in particular at organizations purporting to protect and advocate women’s rights while failing to provide women themselves with any benefits other than free refreshments at conferences.
“Women don’t need conferences held in their name, they need real projects with real outcomes,” al-Moqbily added.
All CSO’s describe themselves as independent, non-profit institutions but many are actually the complete opposite. According to al-Moqbily, most CSO’s work for the benefit of their financiers and supporters—financial backers who are usually proactive on only certain issues that serve to benefit them. “What happened to objectivity and impartiality?” al-Moqibly asks. “In classifying Yemen’s CSO’s, I have actually classified them as investment, partisan and sectarian organizations. I have yet to find truly neutral, voluntary organizations.”
Chairman of International Youth Council in Yemen, Tareq A. Hassan al-Sharabie, said that less than 20% of Yemeni CSO’s are doing their job in supporting youth because of the absence of governmental control. “If CSO’s in Yemen do their work beside the governments, we will be able to get rid of the huge unemployment rate among the Yemeni Youth.”
Al-Sharabie suggested that the government employ a monitoring system to uncover which CSO’s are truly working for society, and which are just using their names to take funds without providing any real job, services, activities or programs for Yemeni Youth .
In a time when Yemeni people are suffering from a host of problems, the CSO chairmen enjoy lives of luxury. Nazeeh Ahmed al-Emad, legal advisor, said that CSO chairmen are not satisfied with their wealth in Yemen; many also own apartments in Egypt, Lebanon and other countries.
“Many of these CEO’s take yearly trips abroad to have fun with their families at the expense of the organization, to say nothing of their bank accounts,” al-Emad added.
According to Abu Akram, employee at the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOHR), these chairmen often have strong relationships with their moneyed donors, and that the donors know the CSO racket to be a game of shady facts and obfuscation. “It is enough for them to have reports on papers; these reports do not reflect any work in reality, and they papers are kept until the item is forgotten.”
Yemeni Law #49 says that when preparing and reviewing reports, the chartered accountant must point out the accounting rules that the two parties agreed on; this refers to the consistency and use of their application. Chartered accountant Suhil al-Khalifa, says that the documents alone are not enough to reflect the truth, because “nothing is easier than forgery these days.”
Chair of the Yemeni Alliance for Transparency and Anti-corruption Nabil Abdalhafidh says that CSO’s must come under the supervision of not only the government but also public watchdog groups by designing a website for organizations to list all of their administrative and financial reports. This will improve the transparency and credibility of these organizations.
According to the law, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is the responsible organ for monitoring CSO’s. The executive director of YOHR said that the Ministry works with absolute transparency. “Our calculations are available to all, and we give the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor the names of our funders and the amounts of funding we receive.”
In September 2013, the World Bank showed its dissatisfaction with the way that many civil society organizations and Yemeni associations were operation. The Bank declared that some CSO’s required funding for their projects, but some of them were committed to the implementation of those projects while others offered fake projects in order to obtain funding for personal interests. To solve the problem, the World Bank changed its mechanisms for funding Yemeni projects.
Although government agencies possess the power to monitor the work of CSO’s, the relationship between Yemen’s political and humanitarian worlds is still very random, and lacks an active body of laws to regulate it.
Perhaps what makes matters worse is that the government does not have a complete vision to absorb foreigners’ aid. “The Yemeni government’s dependence on foreign backers deprives it of the ability to exploit local resources by means of taxes, customs, oil wealth, fisheries and tourism. There is little incentive to reduce financial and administrative corruption. If it used all its resources, though, Yemen stop going through the trouble of searching for grants, aid and loans,” Abu Akram advised.