Yemeni parliament passes USD 65 million 2012 tribal leaders’ budget
Sheikhs (tribal leaders) have a large affect on different areas of life in Yemen. Sheikhs are not often elected, the title usually being conferred by family succession. They represent a large percentage of Parliament and Shura Council members. Sheikhs in Yemen are always male, there are no female sheikhs.
Many sheikhs own numerous companies, large farms and other assets. Additionally, most of them receive monthly salaries and other privileges from the government and even from foreign countries.
The Gulf Research Center (GRC) reported in July 2011 that, “For many decades, Saudi Arabia adopted ‘dollar diplomacy’ as a main instrument to influence developments inside Yemen.”
“And, the Saudis could not develop a credible alternative to this instrument,” the GRC added.
It explained that “Saudi Arabia, despite transferring billions of dollars every year to the bank accounts of the influential Yemeni leaders, remains in reality a marginal player in the country’s political affairs.”
The former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years, also used the same mechanism to gain tribal alliances. Further, Saleh used to appoint sheikhs as governors or other high-ranking government posts, and sometimes reward them military rank without being involved in the army.
He established a special authority for sheikhs (the Tribal Affairs Authority) for which the government used to appropriate large financial allocations.
Some sheikhs operate to solve social problems, press the government to establish service projects in their areas and mediate for people to gain government jobs. Many others, however, are accused of committing violations, abusing people, breaching laws, imposing tributes and looting lands.
Some sheikhs work as de facto rulers in their areas, and government authorities can do nothing without their cooperation and coordination. They can have private prisons, private armies with numerous kinds of weapons, and have been known to refuse the orders of the government with little consequence.
“Sheikhs played a significant role in enabling the General People’s Congress led by Saleh to have a majority inside the parliament as they used their influence, funds and sometimes weapons to force people to vote for specific candidates,” Mustafa Al-Sabri, a journalist told the Yemen Times.
Saleh gone, but his instruments are still in place
On Monday April 16, the 2012 state budget proposed by the National Unity Government was passed by Yemen’s parliament. At the same time, the parliament recommended an additional YR 14 billion (USD 65 million) for monthly payments to sheikhs and dignitaries.
The Finance Ministry attempted to revoke the sheikhs’ appropriations, but the majority of the General People’s Congress, still led by the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, passed the sheikhs’ budget on April 16 after disagreement with other lawmakers.
A member of parliament, Shawqi Al-Qadi of the Islah Party, told the Yemen Times that the financial appropriations of 14 billion for tribal leaders is a simple case of corruption. He pointed out that these financial allocations violate Yemen’s constitutional laws and the principles of equal citizenship and opportunity.
He said that some tribal leaders affiliated with Saleh, who are also members of the parliament, seek to impede the interim government. He also said that some sheikhs are not satisfied with even those salaries allocated to them, and that they receive considerable financial amounts from the Republican Presidency items, other government institutions and that they also hold several government posts.
“Unfortunately, there is a group of people who are connected to the former president who have large funds and they use them to achieve their own goals and purposes, and harm the interests of the nation,” he added.
“Though the budget has deficits in items of education, health and infrastructure, the lawmakers of the GPC insisted on wasting public funds on sheikhs and dignitaries,” Al-Qadi said.
“It was supposed to be that members of parliament side with the issues of those who voted for them and their needs, instead of wasting resources to obtain tribal alliances that make no progress for the people and their needs,” he added.
He emphasized that the government and President Hadi are able to stop the waste of public funds under the GCC-mediated power transfer deal.
Mohammad Jubran, professor of economics at Sana’a University, said that Yemeni laws do not allow the parliament to add any financial amounts to the budget and this supports the attitude of the Finance Minster, Sakhar Al-Wajeeh.
“I advised him [Al-Wajeeh] not to surrender to the parliament because the current House of Representatives is not legitimate, its legal term ended in 2009,” Jubran said.
“If prior parliaments couldn’t make amendments to the budgets, then why does this parliament want to do that?” he added. “The current parliament wastes resources instead of protecting them.”
“As an economist and a man who came from a tribal family, I demand that the Tribal Affairs Authority be cancelled, and that no salary or funds be given to any tribal leader whatever his description except for those who hold scientific certificates for which they can serve the nation,” he went on.
“This is a misuse of public funds, but President Hadi and the consensus government wants to avoid engaging in side rows that are not among their priorities, particularly at this critical stage,” a journalist and activist, Saleh Al-Suraimi, told the Yemen Times.
“The appropriations of financial amounts for sheikhs are not a new thing and it is an instrument of Saleh’s regime. The revoking of these appropriations would result in problems for the government,” he added.
Ali Alwafi, an economist, described the 2012 budget as the worst ever, pointing out that numerous allocations were added to items of the budget that will not be of benefit to the people.
He said that more than YR 317 billion (USD 1.4 billion) has been approved for defense and security, expressing his surprise that parliamentarians stood idly by as such large appropriations of the budget happened, stressing that the budget was supposed to increase items such health and education.
Meanwhile, the Study and Economic Media Centre (SEMC) denounced the recommendations passed by the parliament that included financial appropriations for sheikhs and dignitaries.
“The disbursement of funds for sheikhs and dignitaries is public corruption that contradicts the Yemeni constitution, laws and the International Convention against Corruption, and is a systemic support to corruption,” said the SEMC.
In a statement, SEMC said the government had reduced the expenditure of the Republic Presidency items, which was a major source for corruption in past years, in particular those funds that went to gain tribal alliances. SEMC reaffirmed that parliamentarians insisted on violating laws and legitimizing corruption.
It further expressed sorrow about the lack to transparency in the state budget and the exclusion of civil society organizations from involvement in reviewing the budget to see how public funds are being disbursed.
“The National Unity Government follows the same measures as the previous governments in dealing with the state budget,” the SEMC said.
Protests in Taiz against sheikhs’ budget
On Monday April 23, massive crowds took to the streets of the southern city of Taiz in protest at the allocation of salaries for sheikhs, stressing that it is unacceptable to grant sheikhs funds after the uprising.
They said that Saleh used tribal sheikhs to abuse people, manipulate elections and counterfeit the will of people, and demanded the government not give them any funds.
They further demanded the government reallocate the funds for sheikhs towards the families of victims of the uprising and to investment projects.
Mohammad Al-Bashari, a student at Sana’a University, described the funds given to sheikhs as a form of corruption that must be ended after the revolution, emphasizing that Yemenis sacrificed themselves to end the waste of public money.
He demanded that President Hadi and the government allocate these funds for poor families and projects that may boost the state economy, asserting that most sheikhs operate against the interests of the state, and abuse and repress people in rural areas.