With parliament’s confidence, Yemeni cabinet turns to economy

Published May 13th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Despite a boycott by the speaker and the main opposition party, the Yemeni parliament passed on May 6 a vote of confidence in the new government, with 195 deputies out of the total 301 raising their hands in favor. Because of the walkout, only six deputies voted against the government, and there were two abstentions. 


As was the case with the outgoing government, all 35 newly or reappointed ministers belong to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party, which enjoys an overwhelming majority in parliament of almost two-thirds. 


Last week’s confidence vote followed a cabinet reshuffle in April, when Saleh promoted Foreign Minister Abdul-Qader Bagammal to the post of prime minister. These changes came after a referendum in February, in which Yemeni voters approved constitutional changes, including the extension of terms of the president and parliament. 


The walkout during the confidence vote, which was led by Parliament Speaker Shaikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmer, who heads the Islah opposition party, was in protest of the government’s plans to unify the national education system, and so close up to 400 religious schools, catering to 250,000 students. The schools, which were set up in the mid-1970s in former North Yemen with the aim of confronting Marxist ideas prevailing in South Yemen, were originally slated for closure by a law passed in 1993, which was never implemented. North Yemen and South Yemen were unified in 1990. 


With the controversial educational issue behind it, the new cabinet is able to proceed with its economic program, at the heart of which is a reform program launched in 1995 under the supervision of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 


Along these lines, the IMF has urged Yemen, which is chronically plagued by lawlessness, including frequent kidnappings, to implement anti-corruption programs and make the civil service more effective. 


For its part, the new cabinet has said it plans to reduce the budget deficit, boost non-oil revenues, lower public spending, establish an official stock market and work for an economic growth rate of five percent to 5.5 percent over the next two years.  


These efforts will receive a boost from foreign sources; the European Commission has recently agreed to finance two development projects to the tune of €8.5 million—one in water infrastructure and the other in the civil aviation sector. The aviation industry will also get assistance from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which has agreed to extend a $98.1-million soft loan facility for the expansion of Sana’a Airport. Furthermore, Yemen Airways has signed a $129-million deal with the International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC) to charter three Boeing 737-800 aircraft. 


Yemen is also in the process of modernizing numerous other sectors, and is seeking foreign capital to aid in this endeavor. The country’s General Investment Commission has completed initial studies for 34 projects in industry, agriculture and services, valued at $1.74 billion, which are being offered to local, Arab and foreign businesspersons.  


But Yemen’s precarious security situation continues to deter foreign investors. The latest incident occurred on May 3, when five people were killed in Sana’a during a vengeance clash between factional tribes.  


US President Bush evidently had the country’s security situation in mind, when he appointed last week Edmund James Hull as the next US ambassador to Yemen. A career diplomat, Hull is also considered a counter-terrorism expert. 


Yemen’s efforts to appeal to foreign investors received a body blow last October, when a suicide bomber aboard a boat rammed into the USS Cole off the port of Aden, killing 17 US naval personnel.  


The port of Aden, which is a strategic asset in Yemen’s effort to get its economy back on track, has slowly been working to minimize the damage caused by the bombing of the USS Cole. According to SABA, the Yemen news agency, during the first quarter of 2001, Aden port received 512 ships and oil tankers. — (MENA Report)

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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