Q) In the light of the international aid that can be given to Yemen to help stabilize the country, what are the projects that Yemen places at the top of its priorities?
A) Yemen needs huge aid. This is because Yemen still is one of the developing countries, and it has many problems and faces many challenges, including the issues of the increasing population, the scarcity of water, and the economic and social development. There are a large number of issues. The government focuses on projects that will lead to providing the necessary services to the citizens, such as electricity, education, and health. However, at the same time we do not forget that Yemen has a problem of unemployment, and we have to create the suitable climate to attract domestic, Arab, and international investments so that these investments would contribute to the resolution of the unemployment problem. The projects of which we speak have a common aim, namely serving the citizen, providing his basic needs, and at the same time, they create a solid atmosphere that is capable of attracting the Arab and foreign investments to Yemen. The Arab or foreign investor wants electricity, roads, communications, and land provided with utilities so that he can build the projects on it.
Q) What is the current rate of unemployment in Yemen?
A) The rate of unemployment that is actually registered ranges between 15 and 18 percent of the workforce. Everybody is talking about the issue of unemployment in a number of directions. We have seasonal jobs, we have continuous jobs, and we have one-off jobs, and to these percentages there are new numbers that are added [every year]. Before the world financial crisis occurred, and before the occurrence of some domestic problems such as the Huthi rebellion, some of the problems in the south, and the problems of the Al-Qaeda Organization, before all this there were real estate investment Gulf projects that exceeded 10 billion dollars. However, there is a retreat in this plan.
Q) What is the percentage of this retreat?
A) It is not a retreat, but it is a delay in the implementation that has reached some 50 percent. This means that these projects exist, and their programs exist, and they only were waiting for the starting signal. They still are promising projects for Yemen and for these companies.
Q) Are there examples of these projects?
A) One of them is a project proposed in Aden Governorate with the start of work with Dubai International Capital, and the commencement of some tourism projects there. Also there is an existing project called Al-Rayyan or Al-Diyar al-Qatariyah; it is a huge project on a mountain in the middle of Sanaa; work has started partially. The project will continue, because Yemen has taken the Huthi rebellion into a new direction, also it is working to increase the stability in the southern governorates, and also is confronting any probable dangers from Al-Qaeda against the international partners.
Q) The Al-Rayyan project, is it a tourism or a real estate project?
A) It is a tourist real estate project, this is in the sense that it serves a sector of people who want to buy apartments or villas in Yemen.
Q) What about the rest of the projects?
A) There are housing projects that are open to the public, and tourism projects that are related to utilizing the virgin tourism factors available in Yemen. International companies or corporations can find in this country and its coasts promising resources that can compete with the similar projects in the region.
Q) This is as far as the center and the south are concerned; but what is your estimate of the volume of development that Sa’dah region needs after the war is halted there?
A) I can tell you that at the beginning of the Huthi rebellion in Yemen there was an estimate of 500 million dollars needed to reconstruct what was ruined. This estimate was more than one year ago. Now there will be a new survey in order to identify the additional damage caused by the Huthi rebellion in the latest war, because the ceasefire has taken place only a short time ago. We, our partners in development, and our partners in the region will deal with this issue, and the situation will proceed well.
Q) Can we say that the requirements will be in the region of 1.5 billion dollars?
A) As a person who works in a ministry that believes in figures and surveys I expect that we will exceed this figure by three or four times (around 4 billion dollars). The Yemeni Government speaks in figures, and does not use them haphazardly. Our technical teams and partners in development will identify the volume of damage that occurred since the fifth war until now, and on the basis of this we will find those who will stand by us until the situation returns to what it was, especially the construction of what was destroyed during the Huthi rebellion.
Q) What are the obstacles that led to the delay in the implementation of the development projects despite the availability of the international financing for these projects?
A) Since the London conference in November 2006, which underscored the international aid for Yemen, Yemen was one of the leading countries in the region in the issues of transparency, good government, and combating terrorism. Yemen has two types of donors, traditional donors, and new donors, both of which participated in supporting Yemen. The first type, the traditional donors, is represented by the European countries and some Arab and international funds. The second type, the new donors who entered strongly, is represented by the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries. In that period (in the 2006 conference) Yemen mobilized some 5 billion dollars of pledges. Half of that sum was from the traditional donors, who have had annual programs in Yemen, such as the Arab and international funds, and work in these projects is proceeding in a normal way. As for the new aid, it is represented by what the GCC countries have pledged; naturally this aid has been translated into the group of projects we proposed.
Q) What is the cause of the delay and slowness of implementation?
A) The reason is certain mechanisms in organization and administration. The feasibility studies of some projects were incomplete, there were special requirements related to some of the land of the projects, and there were mechanisms used by the funds or the countries that had the funds, we had our own mechanisms, the two types of mechanisms were not compatible; after that came the world financial crisis, the rise in the prices of food, and the disaster of the floods in Yemen. Many disparities took place that actually slowed down the implementation of these projects. We on the Yemeni side said that at the London conference that was held at the beginning of this year (27 January 2010). We said that we learned from the dysfunctions that happened whether on our side or on the other side.
Q) What about now, and what about the future with regard to the spending of the development allocations?
A) We now understand what took place, and we are ready to proceed with determination on the basis of timetables and commitments that we know we can pledge. The address by the prime minister at the London conference last month was clear and transparent, because there were some aspects of dysfunction, and we have to admit that. Moreover, President Ali Abdullah Saleh attended two or three cabinet meetings, and was very frank; he told everybody that there is a specific time limit by which all the necessary measures ought to be taken. We are aware of the issue of the delay. The president said at the cabinet meeting: We want the tenders of the project that have financing to be offered in 2010, and we want the implementation of these projects to start as soon as possible so that we move to the next stage of the issue of the 2006 London conference.
Q) Many people consider the 2006 London conference as a measure of the inability of the Yemeni Government to spend the money allocated to it by the donors?
A) Anyone who thinks that the 2006 London conference is everything is wrong, because what was offered at that conference was merely the beginning. Yemen needs many times what has been allocated to it since that conference. It is sufficient to visit our remote and rural regions to find that each of them needs some water or utility project. Our ports and airports need rehabilitation. Most of our education institutions and manpower cadres need huge rehabilitation. We – as the Yemeni Government – are trying to deal with what we have, and we have huge aspirations. However, sometimes world problems and some domestic problems prevent us from implementing these goals. However, I reiterate: We are prepared to absorb many times this aid. The experience of 2010 and 2011 in dealing with the funds allocated to us will show the world, especially our brethren in the GCC, that we are capable of absorbing this aid, because Yemen has great needs.
Q) What is the volume of these monies, whether those allocated by the traditional or the new donors?
A) Nearly half of these monies are from the traditional donors who have been dealing with us for some time, Germany, France, Italy, Holland, the European Union, and the finance funds. The work programs with them are progressing, and there are no problems. As for the new monies, they come from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, and the Arab Development Fund. These sums were supposed to be spent between 2007 and 2010, and indeed some 15 percent of them have already been spent, and finance agreements have been signed for half of these sums; this means that after the finance agreements the announcement and the implementation of these projects start. There is a delay of some 50 percent of the allocations. The sums have been allocated, but the finance agreements have to be signed. This is taking place now through the Yemeni Government. After signing the finance agreements, the tenders will be announced, and the companies will be commissioned to implement the various projects.
Q) What about the urgent plan?
A) With regard to the urgent plan for the next two or three years, the brother president, through his meetings with many of the international and regional influential dignitaries who visit him, has drawn up 10 points, which he calls the “ten priorities,” and for which he formed an executive office chaired by the prime minister, with the membership of a number of ministers, and for which a technical committee was formed from among the best national cadres and qualified people. The president identified the urgent issues in 10 points, the first of which is the modernization of management. It is imperative to modernize the management and to vitalize the management work in the Yemeni Republic so that we would have people who work as decision makers and managers who administer these funds, and hence we can achieve results. We are working according to the principle of management by results.
Q) What is the second point?
A) The second point is the workforce, i.e. the Yemeni workers who travel to the Gulf countries to work. The presence of such workers in these countries provides the public treasury with hard currency that can put an end to unemployment, and improve the Yemeni balance of payment. Therefore, our good relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and the Gulf countries in general will be translated into facilitating and regulating the entry of Yemeni workforce into these countries so that we can deal with part of the problem of unemployment in the Yemeni Republic. We have agreements with most of the Gulf countries, and we also have programs to rehabilitate most of our cadres. The good relations between the brother president and our brethren the kings and princes of these countries will facilitate the entry of our workforce into these countries and their treatment as Gulf workers.
Q) But there are conditions for joining the GCC?
A) Naturally there are stages in joining the GCC. Now, we are pursuing to join the GCC within the next 10 years, i.e. until we modernize our structure, and modernize everything. However, at the same time we consider that Yemen deserves to be treated as one of the GCC countries so that the Yemeni workforce can receive some facilities rather than giving these facilities to the Asian countries; we are more entitled to these facilities as brethren and neighbors.
Q) Is the issue of oil taken into consideration, i.e. is it included in the urgent plan?
A) Of course it is. Yemen is one of the countries that produce small amounts of oil. However, as the Yemeni Government we can act and bring in the major corporations to carry out the necessary surveys and explorations, and we can give them all the facilities. You might find it incredible if I tell you that surveys and explorations have been carried out in only 10 to 15 percent of the Yemeni territories. We have extensive shores where no explorations whatsoever have been carried out.
Q) What are the exact areas?
A) Near all the coasts. Also we have areas in Ma’rib, Al-Jawf, Shabwah, and Hadramawt, which have not been checked, but it is probable that there are large quantities of oil and gas there. We are a geographical extension of the Gulf countries, but our limited financial abilities have not enabled us to carry out any explorations. Our aim now is to attract the huge corporations that have major financing abilities, and we will give them facilities, and shorten the period of processing the oil agreements. This is because some of the agreements used to wait at the House of Representatives and the legislative authorities for very long periods. Perhaps this led some corporations to lose interest in the issue. We will facilitate all these procedures within the urgent program.
Q) There is talk about the subsidies within the 10 urgent points. What are the measures that will be taken in this field?
A) Now we are about to deal with the problem of subsidies through a number of points. First: The citizen should not shoulder the major burden of removing the subsidies; this means that if we have to import oil derivatives and diesel from abroad, we ought to import them at reasonable prices, and the increase in prices should be limited through opening the field for competition. This means that we used to import from specific sides, and these sides because of the fact that they were giving us credit facilities used to sell to us for high prices; now, we will open the field so that we get the best prices for our oil derivatives and diesel imports, and resell them on the Yemeni market for better prices. Second: The Yemeni gas ought to enter the economic equation, in the sense that the power stations in which we pump huge quantities of fuel ought to use this gas to reduce the costs of producing energy, and hence we ease the burden – be it electricity, factories, or laboratories – of the Yemeni citizen. After we reduce the citizen’s burden, we will deal with the issue of subsidies in a scientific way, and in a way that takes into consideration the situation of the people.
Q) I believe that Aden Governorate itself is within the program of the urgent ten points, is it not?
A) Aden Governorate will be a very large special economic area that will be given all the necessary facilities, resources, and finances in order to turn Aden into a working place. We will establish industrial areas next to Aden, and companies will come in and get all the facilities to work and to create jobs. Aden is our economic gate. Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have given us expertise to help us in turning this governorate into an economic zone. Currently a study is being undertaken and the legislations are being ratified in order to turn Aden into a special economic zone, perhaps similar to Al-Aqabah or similar to zones in other countries. We will apply the experiment also in Al-Hudaydah and Hadramawt.
Q) But all this cannot be done without economic, political, financial, administrative, and legal reforms is this not so?
A) Our emergency and urgent program includes such reforms. The brother president considers that the reforms will emerge before the world, and that this developing country which is said to have corruption and problems should follow a course of reform that would attract the others as investors, donors, and also as countries to deal with us. These reforms will not be mere ink on paper, or postponed from one year to another. Moreover, we have another important issue that is related to the dignity of the state, or law and order. There are some individuals who think that security chaos is one of the characteristics of Yemen. The Yemeni Government has not yet shown all the necessary strength and resources to make security a necessity in Yemen.
Q) Can you give us an example?
A) Dealing with people used to take place in a way that aimed to resolve the problems quietly and through mediation. Now, we have a comprehensive plan to establish the state of law and order using all the resources of the state. Therefore, all the security and military resources of the state will be a very important part of the implementation of a comprehensive security plan to make this country a place for tourism, and a place in which the citizen moves in utmost safety as he knows that the state will establish its dignity by force and by law. Even with regard to the issue of owning land, the state now is moving within a clear program with all the legal, security, and legislative sides so that we can have a clear registration of land. Therefore, we shall know to whom any land in the Yemeni Republic belongs, who owns it, and how its ownership has moved from one person to another. We will get out of the bottleneck in which we found ourselves during the past four or five years.