Analysis: Yemen's aid conundrum
SANAA, 17 March 2010 (IRIN) - What mechanisms are in place to ensure that international aid reaches its intendedrecipients in Yemen rather than corrupt officials? How effective has aid delivery been hitherto?These are some of the questions aid workers and analysts have been asking as instability looms in the wake of widespreadpolitical turmoil and a faltering economy.On the face of it Yemen has significant problems: Dwindling oil revenues; 250,000 internally displaced persons; growingdiscontent in the south; fears over increased Al-Qaeda activity; stubbornly high youth unemployment and a rapidly growingpopulation; food insecurity; shrinking water resources - and many more.Recent international aid conferences on Yemen - in London on 27 January and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on 27 February - haveattempted to address or prioritize some of these problems.Ahead of the London conference, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi pleaded for more international aid to combatunemployment and poverty which are seen as exacerbating the current political turmoil.But, according to a September 2009 Carnegie Endowment report entitled Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral, foreign aidis hampered by capacity limitations and domestic corruption."A major question for foreign donors is whether Yemen has the capacity at present to absorb more aid money," the reportsaid.Former Finance Minister Saif al-Asali told the Yemen Observer in March 2009 that, in general, government institutions werenot in a position to use effectively the money provided. "The government believes it can use the [aid] money through Yemeniinstitutions, but the donors believe that these Yemeni institutions are not [good] enough and unable to use the moneyeffectively."A senior international aid official who requested anonymity said: "Aid and delivery of basic services to local communities isa major challenge in Yemen. There is no existing compact between government and citizens on the delivery of basic servicesfunded by income tax. There is no system I'm aware of which tracks the flow of aid through to the point where it should reachcommunities."There needs to be greater decentralization of decision-making and budgetary control - to district level - if basic services are toreach the vast majority of the population, he said."International supporters of Yemen need to consider channelling more development funding through international andnational civil society organizations, alongside its direct support to government and parastatal agencies."Absorption of development aid appeared to be related to the capacities of line ministries and the major Yemeni parastatal andcivil society organizations, he added.CorruptionMohammed al-Dhahri, a professor at the Sanaa University, told IRIN aid money is often mis-spent by corrupt governmentofficials, something echoed by another analyst."Development aid to Yemen is often stolen, misappropriated or diverted from the intended recipients. Without a new regimenof oversight and financial transparency, donor aid will have little impact on the lives of the neediest Yemeni citizens," JaneNovak, a US-based analyst and expert on Yemeni affairs, told IRIN.Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2009 gives Yemen a very low ranking (17th out of 19 countries inthe Middle East and North Africa).Mustafa Nasr, chairman of the Economic Media Centre, said international aid should be based on guarantees Yemen can givedonors. "Corruption and the conflicts of interest of government members make it impossible for Yemen to make effective useof donor funds and local resources," he said.