More Ministers must be held accountable by the public – UM

Minister Beileh answering questions at the Public Discussion Program.

Mogadishu (UM) – On Monday this week, the Minister of Finance Abdirahman Beileh was questioned by a cross section of the Somali public on the actions, policies and reforms of his Ministry. The Open Discussion Program (Dood Furan) brought together policymakers, activists, students and business owners to discuss the successes and challenges of the Ministry of Finance’s policies. The program was live both on national TV and online with public questions coming from all over the world.

In his opening statement Dr. Beileh spoke of the successes of his reforms and asked the Somali people to continue supporting the state building process through their direct actions of paying taxes, opening businesses  and complying with financial regulations and laws. He stated that Somalia was a car stuck in the mud and all Somalis were duty bound to push it out of the mud and onto the road. He also described Somalia’s developmental stage within the context of a computer and said that we were at the stage of working on the hardware. Clearly, his view is that Somalia still has a long way to go but never the less it was one which most participants agreed with. However, what made this public gathering important was not Minister Beileh or his Ministry but the public who got the opportunity to hold both to account for their policies, actions and the televised monthly claims of success.

While Dr. Beileh had the right to be proud of his Ministry’s efforts under the IMF Staff Monitored Program (SMP), he knew little of alleged allegations of corruption within the wider government which concerned the public. Important questioned were asked by the public including why MP’s were given favourable tax treatment over the public? How to stop the abuse of power by the Tax police who allegedly ask for bribes? How will taxes be harmonsied so that the Somali business community can have confidence in their national government and create opportunities with further investment? What he knew about payments to Parliamentarians outside the budget as an Eid gift earlier this year? The Minister answered some of these questions well while others lacked depth and real analysis. In the end, the main outcome of this historic meeting between the Ministry and the public was that there was a long way to go to convince the Somali people that the financial and economic reforms the Somali government boasts of have an impact on their daily lives.

Both President Mohamed Abdullahi Framaajo and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire are obsessed with transparency and accountability. These words are said so often they will  soon lose value unless urgent steps are taken to enact them. The Somali people have heard and seen it all before and their confidence in government is still very weak. An important way to break this cycle of cynicism and public distrust is for this government to reflect on its actions so far. This does not need another Cabinet retreat where friends mingle and tell each other how great they are; it needs real accountability from Ministries and Ministers directly to the people.

Both the President and Prime Minister had an active and direct role in selecting the Cabinet and they are ultimately responsible for their performance since it is related to the fulfilling their political mandate. At present, the public feel there is very little policy successes this government can claim which has direct impact on their lives. However, the government sees it very differently as operating in a difficult environment like Somalia increases the risk of failure and, therefore in their eyes, any progress is huge. How to address these two competing narratives is the question for this administration. A good start is to follow in Minister Beileh’s footsteps and bring all the key line Ministries before the public for questioning. From this, we can all learn what the government and governed think and, from there, a new plan for moving forward can be agreed.

This Government regularly praises itself on their perceived successes. The Prime Minister’s “ambitious legislative and reform agenda” rhetoric has not got past his inability to still select the Director General’s of the Somali Ministries competitively as he promised. The President appears to have lost touch with the people as he is stuck in the Villa Somalia bubble and is only seen when the roads are closed for his visits to the Ministry of Defence and the airport to fly out. All the while, many Somali Ministers are either out of the country, sleeping at midday when they should be working or gossiping in expensive hotels at night at the expense of the Somali tax payers. There is clearly a need for accountability to the public. The sooner this starts the quicker the Government can get its house in order.