Yemeni minister of industry and trade to the Yemen Times: “There should be political will to combat corruption”
Mohammed bin Sallam (author), Mohammed bin Sallam (photographer)
According to people who have worked with him, al-Kathiri is one of Yemen’s most honest civil servants. He also canceled his membership to the ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC) in 2007 and quit his post as a member of the parliament after a fight with former deputy speaker, and now speaker, of the parliament Yahia al-Ra’ee.
He has his distinct positions on corruption. He was the whistle-blower in parliament when it came to shady transactions, and when he was appointed as a member of the SNACC, he made it clear that he would hand in his notice if ever the role of the authority weakened, and that was exactly what happened.
Yemen Times’ Mohammed Bin Sallam met to discuss his new mission as minister for industry and trade. Here are some excerpts:
Can you please compare the ministry before and now? What do you aspire to make of it in the future?
A comparison between the ministry’s past and present should not be difficult. It used to have its head office in Hasaba but it was looted and badly damaged, so we moved to this small building that has no proper equipment or necessary resources. The ministry in its old building was one of the best ministries, especially in terms of e-management. When I was appointed, the ministry had only five to six computers. We received support from generous donors in the private sector and now we have twenty-five computers.
The ministry has other problems related to management and restructuring, as well as difficult communication with private companies the ministry is dealing with because of the shortage and high cost of fuel. There are also many closed corporations, like gas companies and textile factories in Sana’a and Aden. Such matters need time to be solved. We even need to cooperate with corporations that suffer from a lack of resources due to the political crisis in the country, and we are looking for proper means to do this.
And because the ministry cannot do without economic, commercial, and industrial progress to benefit and learn from, we need to make further efforts in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in these areas.
How do you plan to do that?
It is hard to take a step forward in the current foggy situation. We need some stability, a lot of planning, and sound management. All of this was not implemented during the last months and I intend to work hard with available resources to change concepts and introduce some possible good policies to improve things and move smoothly forward.
The walls of the building are daubed with graffiti calling for the ministry to be cleansed of ‘corruption gangs’.
The scrawls has been here since last month, that is before I came, and they were inspired by the revolution. The ministry was no exception when it comes to developments in the country. We’ve received representatives of the protesting employees and discussed their demands in a civilized and reasonable manner. We have also agreed on what we need to do in the short and long term to curb and eventually uproot corruption.
Was the protest a result of mistakes committed in the past?
Of course, there were mistakes. Competent and respected persons were marginalized and we managed to bring some of them back. They are now reflecting the memory and the experience of the ministry and are working as consultants to the minister. Since I’m new here, I really need them around me as people who should be commended, honored, and relied on, in order to run things better.
What about Yemen joining the World Trade Organization (WTO)?
Yemen has been trying to enter this organization for ten years now. A political decision was made for it to join. Yemen has what it takes to join, and now we’re in the final phases of the process. We’ve met up to 95 percent of WTO’s requirements, meaning that the present situation in Yemen should still satisfy the organization’s requirements.
What are examples?
There the required ceilings on customs protection are very low. It’s merely around 5 percent for customs tariffs. Also some laws have been amended like those of corporate ownership, as well as imports and exports. There are volumes of conditions that have been met. In short, we’ve complied with almost all provisions. We will benefit from the membership certificate to encourage investors and all economic sectors in the world to come and invest in Yemen and, God willing, we will eventually accomplish this.
What’s left for Yemen to be gain admission to the WTO?
The final thing we need to do is to request parliament to issue the relevant law, which is still under consideration by the house’s legal committee who are drafting a number of required laws relating to the protection of intellectual property and adjacent rights. If we can finalize this, then within seven months we’ll have concluded all membership requirements to be granted the final certificate as a member of WTO.
What are the obstacles to trade between Yemen and Saudi Arabia?
I visited Saudi Arabia on Friday before last and met with Saudi-Yemeni Trade Council members as well as a number of Saudi and Yemeni businessmen on the sidelines of their regular meeting at the Riyadh chamber of commerce. We discussed several of these issues. The most important of these is the method applied when packaging and wrapping vegetables and fruit exported by Yemeni farmers to Saudi Arabia. Saudis implement particular specifications that may be hard for some Yemeni exporters to comply with. The solution is therefore for us to abide by such requirements because Saudi know better what is good for their market. This way we can send our commodities to the Saudi as well as all other Gulf states’ markets. We also wish for these specifications to be applied to the vegetables and fruit marketed locally too.
What about price stability in the country? Is there any monopoly of certain consumer goods?
I don’t think that there’s any monopoly. In principle, our ministry is concerned with basic goods, not all goods in the market, except in terms of specifications and rates. I can’t say that there’s a monopoly because merchants importing wheat are only six or seven, some of whom have their own silos. Unfortunately, the formerly state-owned silos have been sold although they were supposed to be storages for independent traders.
Who is responsible for setting fuel rates?
This is the responsibility of the government. However, it’s the oil ministry that is in charge of circulating, providing and distributing fuel. It’s a shame that there are different rates for the same commodity. The price of diesel, for instance, ranges from YR50 to YR220 per liter. There are even four different rates for this material. The question is: How can we prevent the illegal selling of diesel? This increases the price of a liter that is meant to be sold for YR50 to YR100-150. But I don’t think that we can fix prices in the present chaos.
Tell us about employee discipline, the fingerprint attendance system, and the number of contracted employees in your ministry.
No one is exempted from the fingerprint and photo checks except for the minister, deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, and the minister’s office director. Anyway, the number of employees working here now is only 130 out of the total 400 who were working in the ministry before it moved from its original headquarters to Hadda Street.
What are the ministry’s media activities?
We have the Industry and Trade magazine that is issued monthly and sometimes bimonthly. It publishes trade marks, both national and international, as well as those who wish to protect their rights. It’s not only a newsletter, but also a rights publication. It represents one of the ministry’s key activities: preserving property rights, trade rights and agency rights.
Do you see harmony among the new government’s members?
There is. Often.
The question I keep asking myself is: When is Yemen going to have a fresh economic vision based on a fresh social, economic, and political mentality? This is the change that I wish to happen. It is a must that some social, economic, and political concepts change, and there should be genuine economic leadership for the country to survive its current crisis.
Everybody knows that all that the resources of the country have been mismanaged including gas that could have been used by us as a cheap source of power and that could have helped boost the economy, industry, and services in many ways. Now Yemen lacks the most basic requirement for an economy: power. We therefore need to ensure that Yemen is spared from any further mismanagement.
We have to find realistic solutions for these serious problems, and I’m not only talking about gas. There are other grave problems like the one at the port of Aden, bad attitudes in politics, habits that have taken root over the years such as some shameful tribal actions, granting relatives political posts and exploiting national resources unjustly. All these acts do the country’s economy harm.
However, were there to be political will to combat corruption and were employees to show integrity and adopt scientific methodology in management, then all will be fine.