Secretary of the Capital Abdulqadir Helal to the Yemen Times: "How beautiful if the military camps change to be hospitals and parks."
Sadeq Al-Wesabi (author), Sadeq Al-Wesabi (photographer), Ahmed Dawod (author)
Abdulqadir Ali Helal has been noted for his reputability every time he assumes senior government positions. In 1986, he was appointed the general manager of Mawya district in Taiz governorate. In 1987, he assumed the responsibility of general manager for the Damt district in Dale governorate. In 1994, he was installed as deputy governor of Ibb province. By the end of 1994, he became governor of Ibb.
Furthermore, Helal was appointed as Hadramaut’s governor in 2001. In March of 2007, he was appointed as the minister of local administration. In 2010, he was appointed as the state minister and a member of the Shura council. On July 8, Helas took office as the general secretary of the capital city.
In this interview, Helal elaborated on the major challenges facing Sana’a, as well as many other issues.
Although appointed during the peak of the street workers crisis, you found a solution to the problem. What happened?
First, my appointment as the general secretary of the capital city came during the complex circumstances Yemen has been facing in general and Sana'a in particular. It can be said that Sana'a paid the price dearly in comparison with the rest of the governorates. It’s infrastructure sustained tremendous damages. The roads, water networks, bridges, electric equipment and even the lampposts were all subject to damages. People undertook a hard situation. As a matter of fact, humans don’t always call for frustration and despair. They ought to call for determination, perseverance and challenge. We will function with all the good honest people, the political leadership and the entire society to make a move based on our existing potential.
Regarding the problem you made mention of, we were able to deal with it after the reconciliation government's response. We also negotiated with the Street Workers Syndicate. There was also collaboration among the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Service and the committee set up by the cabinet. This accelerated the official hiring of the street cleaners.
The problem pertinent to the street cleaners has been solved. Is this a temporary solution?
The first phase of the problem is solved. Yet, there are some other factions of workers, like the garden workers and the old street cleaners, who are unable to do the job because of their age. We have certain plans in terms of health and life insurance. That is to say, if anyone is exposed to death while on duty, there will be mercenary compensation for their families.
But the street cleaners are exposed to many diseases while on work. What are your procedures to guarantee their safety?
We are extremely careful to command the workers to put on special clothing and tools. They should have light or safety badges. We have studied these things and discovered they are significant.
The strike by the street cleaners was lifted. However, piles of garbage still spread in some streets of the capital. What is the reason?
Of course, I passed a number of streets during the field visits and observed that. The truth is that the three-month strike was not a simple matter. Moreover, Sana'a has been suffering from trash accumulation for two years. Since my appointment, there have been many cleaning campaigns up to date in order to clean the capital city. Many trade companies and businessmen took part in the campaign, as well as 120 social initiatives. This campaign came at a time when people say Sana'a is on the brink of an environmental catastrophe.
What are the most important initiatives and sides that took part in the campaign?
Himat Shabab initiative, the Popular Committees initative, the Female Sector initiative, the disabled initiative all participated in the campaign. Furthermore, the Commercial Chamber and the educational sector took part, and a campaign was launched by the mosques, which was successful. There was also an initiative organized by the lawyers. There was a youth initiative made to tackle the excavations of streets.
Sometimes you are keen to make field visits to help the street cleaners yourself. Is this a part of your responsibility or just temporary enthusiasm?
In fact, I am accustomed to being the personality I am now.
There were popular committees established when you were appointed. What was the purpose?
The initiatives of the popular committees and civil society organizations aim to implement educational programs in order to provide safety and protection. This was the main objective. If the head of the family is clean, the street will be so. If the street is clean, the city is the same.
I figure from your answer that the initiative and the popular committees' roles have been only confined to enlightening.
As a matter of fact, these initiatives have not been limited to educating. Many youth took action and cleaned the litter from the street. Some brought cleaning equipment by themselves.
What was the role of the secretary general of the capital city?
We provided equipment and machines. We also brought vehicles to transfer the trash to distant places in the city. Now, we are planning to select the three top initiatives to be rewarded.
Does the cooperation between the popular committees and initiatives signal the alternative is available in case the street cleaners go on strike once again?
No, I don’t think so. Let's be optimistic. I don’t want to convey this meaning.
You are earnest to engage civil society in the cleaning process of the streets. Is there any objective behind this?
For any nation aspiring to be successful and prosperous, two conditions should be considered. The first one is the efforts of the state; the second is the support of the community. These two conditions guarantee the progress of the nation. It can be said for any issue related to the municipality, then society should be deemed basically responsible. The Yemeni individual is a source of energy that can be employed to the serve the nation.
You said there are two sides—the government and society—on which hope is pinned. Where is the role of the private sector?
The private sector is one of society’s components. There are a lot of visions shared between the capital city and the private sector. We agreed with the private sector on immediate plans linked to the capital city. We have received comments from the private sector. With regard to strategic plans, the private sector should take part in these plans. We have started thinking to involve the private sector in investment projects such as electricity, water and cleaning.
You declared the door is open to receive any complaints from people. What are the major complaints you have received so far?
What exacerbates the situation of people is the shortage of water and electricity services. Since I came to office, complaints are received every week. However, our work is not restricted to receiving complaints. We made field visits and met with people in mosques, schools and markets. We also have surprise inspection operations. The capital city and the local council decided to establish an information system that enables locals to be in touch with us via calling directly or messages. This system will be inaugurated in the upcoming days so that people will be acquainted with our plans in terms of water and electricity programs. People can notify us directly in case of any service defects.
When you meet with people face to face in the streets or markets, what are the prime problems they directly talk about?
The people want the stability of the capital city. Stability is their demand. They desire to forget the spillover of the last year's events.
What are the challenges you are facing since you were appointed secretary of the capital?
What makes me worried is there are about 500,000 students in government schools and 130,000 students in private schools. This makes me think of productive vocational education. I always think of the future of those students and what they will do after graduating. In addition, I have another challenge, which is water.
Sana’a’s water problems are the worst of any Yemeni city. How do you plan to overcome this problem?
I met World Bank representatives, the Water Resources Public Authority and the water minister. We agreed that the studies done before are good, but they need to be adopted and sponsored. The Water and Environment Center at Sana’a University may be a center to adopt those studies.
Actually, we are working on urgent and strategic plans, including plans to rationalize water usage and stop the random drilling in Sana’a. We will concentrate on water consumption, and what bothers us is that most of the water is used for qat.
There are suggestions to move qat markets faraway out of the capital. What do you think?
Qat markets and butcheries distort the general appearance of the capital. A study has been done to organize these places.
But how are you going to organize them?
I won’t answer so that organization will be successful, but what is important is to remove them from main streets.
You are one of the few officials who pays surprise visits. What surprises you during these visits?
Once I visited a street, and seeing a traffic officer working in the rain surprised me and made me very happy because I felt that there are still people who value their duties.
Sometimes when I visit people, I find patient people who bear hard situations. I met a person who told me that water hasn’t been pumped to his house for three months, but he was patient and never complained.
Moreover, I found out that there are unused new machines in facilities. For instance, there are new machines that aren’t used, and there are about 75 medical centers that aren’t working.
Once, I visited the Water Corporation with the deputy of the secretary of capital and the administrative authority in the Sana’a Local Council. We were surprised that the workers there are committed. I also found that there are residents who look forward to constructing a real state.
There are things that affect our health negatively. For example, there isn’t a lab to check food that is imported in Sana’a. Moreover, polluted water is being sold to people, and this surprised me.
You pledged that Sana’a will be one of the nicest cities. What will you do exactly?
Actually, I didn’t pledge. However, I said we will work together on a three-month urgent plan to bring discipline to streets. Some journalists understood this in the wrong manner.
I meant the cleaning services, the traffic, organizing markets, stability of the new school year and organizing water and electricity services. However, making Sana’a a nice city that each one can be proud of needs a five-year plan.
Some people criticized you for removing the street vendors during Ramadan. They considered it an attempt to prevent them from making money. What do you think?
I’m one of the Yemeni people, and I know that the street vendors struggle and suffer to make money for their families. But frankly, Sana’a entrances and roads were very crowded. They didn’t respect the roads and pavements.
Before removing the street vendors, we announced that alternative places will be provided, and you can be sure that we provided alternative places for them. We also met a committee from the syndicate of the street vendors, but there are still violations of the rules.
How will you deal with those who break the rules? Will you use force to remove them?
No, not this way. However, the law gave us a right to take actions against them. We announced and provided alternative places for the street vendors, and when a person violates this, it means that he isn’t committed.
Do you coordinate with security services?
The security of the capital is responsibility for the centralized authorities. I wish that the minister of interior would issue regulations to organize the work of security services in the governorates. As for the capital, security services are still centralized, but we keep in contact with them.
You coordinated with security services to prevent fireworks, but residents haven’t stop using them so far. Why?
As for fireworks, they entered Sana’a by way of smuggling, and we coordinated with the General Prosecution to take actions against those smugglers or whoever brings them to Sana’a.
If the Ministry of Interior’s orders succeeds in preventing weapons proliferation, how will that help restore the good appearance of Sana’a?
Holding weapons in public places is one of the challenges that face the Yemeni government, and I think that this issue must move to be a social and national case in which politicians, parties, clergies and all people must participate. There must be a clear vision for the state, but actually, I think weapons are starting to disappear gradually from the capital.
Sana’a lacks parks and entertainment places. How will you deal with this problem?
People look forward to having parks as military camps in the capital, and there was a project to establish a large national park, and we are trying to start this project anew.
Why do you think Sana’a was neglected in recent years?
It is because of centralization, either for decision makers or the government. Everything was centralized in Sana’a without giving it—and the other governorates as well—their rights.
So far, Sana’a isn’t specified either as a political, tourism or economic capital. Factories are constructed in Sana’a while there isn’t water in it. It is supposed first that Sana’a is specified to know what it should be and to eliminate some activities and set a plan to know where Sana’a must be during the 20 or 50 upcoming years.
Do you have a plan to make Sana’a a prominent tourism landmark?
It is supposed that there is an independent authority for Old Sana’a instead of the duplication in dealing with Sana’a between the local council, Public Works Office and the Ministry of Culture, which affected it negatively. Through this authority, we can protect Old Sana’a.
There are demands to make Aden a capital because if its civil environment. What do you think?
This was suggested before in a better time, but Aden can be an economic capital if we gave it its rights and can lighten the burden on Sana’a.
Does this mean you demand Sana’a be a capital?
I don’t demand that because it is for the people to do this. It is said that water is the biggest challenge for Sana’a to be a capital because many people are living in it.
There are suggestions to remove the military camps from Sana’a. What do you think?
I heard this many times and the political powers are suggesting it. How beautiful if the military camps change to be hospitals and parks. It is very good, and I hope these suggestions will be achieved.
What are the other places you want to change to parks and hospitals?
People know them.
But we don’t know them?
For instance, a military camp in Al-Zubairi Street can be used for parking, and the money would go to the local council.
What are the procedures you intend to take to eliminate accidents that happen on Seventy Meters Road?
We did a study and started implementing it. We have a traffic plan to divide the street and establish rounds to decrease the accidents.
Bridges and underground tunnels were built, but there are still traffic jams. Why?
This is a part of a strategic plan for the traffic and must be completed.
What are the most prominent projects you will carry out during the upcoming days?
We have a group of projects like bridges, roads, torrents discharge, establishing Abu Baker Al-Sedeek Mosque, completion of roads that stopped at Sixty Meters Road and Airport Road. We will follow up with the relevant authorities regarding the extension of Sana’a Airport and will attempt to control water and electricity services to make them stable.