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Although the main objective of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) is to re-establish a Southern Arab State, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi tweeted shortly before the agreement, conveying the message that they have worked diligently to give the Southern cause its well-deserved right to care and equity through the outcomes of the national dialogue,  through genuine partnership and orientation towards building federal Yemen. The Yemeni foreign minister also tweeted that the signing of the Riyadh agreement had not been made to change the structure of the state, which has already been confirmed by the deal signed with a high-level UN, regional, and Yemeni presence on Tuesday, November 5th.

After multiple delays and several leaks, the Riyadh agreement finally came to express the willingness of the Yemeni government, the Arab coalition countries, the Southern Transitional Council, and other southern components to prevent the prolongation of the conflict, and to participate positively in reaching a just political settlement in the future by strengthening the ranks against the Houthis, taking the southern issue into account and laying a realistic foundation for lasting peace in the war-torn country in the last five years.

The agreement features political, economic, military, and security arrangements. Its contents set a new stage that, if implemented effectively, could help the Yemeni government carry out its core tasks towards its people, and provide the appropriate level of security and strength to deal more efficiently with Houthi rebels and extremist groups.

Political and Economic side:

The political arrangements included the formation of a government of national competencies not exceeding twenty-four ministers, whose members are appointed by the President in consultation with the Prime Minister and the political components, with ministerial portfolios to be divided equally between the southern and northern governorates. This clearly means that the choice will be made regardless of the party affiliation of the southerners, as well as the northerners. On the other hand, the agreement made clear that members of the government should be those who did not engage in hostilities or incitement during the events of Aden, Abyan and Shabwa, a condition that can ensure that the selected personalities will be more independent or, at least, more moderate figures.

The appointment of a dozen southern ministers would affect state policy and contribute to decision-making. According to the Yemeni constitution, the government consists of the prime minister, his deputies, and ministers, and they work collectively to play an essential role in the preparation and formulation of public policy.

The political power of any regime vis-à-vis a threat of civil war can only be maintained if the holders of political positions agree on the fundamental principles of the system. The lack of political consensus in Yemen on what is appropriate political behavior is one of the reasons for instability in general. It has also potential to lead to an eventual collapse of the regime. Past experience have shown that changing government employees can be an effective way to change government policy. Therefore, it is fortunate for the regime to find well-established and open channels of political action and agree on specific measures to redress grievances.

In addition to influencing public policymaking, it is also the Cabinet’s task to approve the nomination of a Governor, submitted by the Minister of Local Administration, to issue a Republican Decree. In this regard, the appointment of governors in the southern governorates,  which is expected to take place within 60 days, – except for the provinces of Aden, Abyan, and al-Dhale’e – will be significantly influenced by southern trends. This gives southerners more confidence. Against backdrop of the fact that they have been denied to have influence in the political sphre , this adds the lacking consensus to the system.

On the other hand, it must be emphasized that public policy, which Southerners will finally be involved in formulating, is embodied in the Constitution, legislative laws, and judicial decisions. This can be a challenge for any Yemeni government, as the constitution and many of Yemen’s legislative laws are not enforced for one reason or another. Lack of law implementation is one of the most important causes of instability in Yemen and popular discontent, whether in the north or south. Failure to enforce the Constitution and the laws leads to an inequitable distribution of wealth, depletion of resources, corruption, and tyranny.

For example, Yemen already has a respectable local authority law that is not enforced. According to the Yemeni Constitution, the local authority system is based on the principle of administrative and financial decentralization. It foresees expansion of local participation in decision-making and management of local affairs in various fields to include the economy and this participation is ensured through elected local councils.  Local councils have the power to propose investment programs, plans and budgets, as well as demanding popular oversight, and accountability of executive bodies.

Despite enactment of this broad-based Local Authority Law in 2000, deep centralization has remained virtually unchanged. Failure to allocate the necessary resources and lack of control has led to mismanagement and corruption in various aspects, including the increasingly deteriorating economy.

The deteriorating economic situation is another reason for the southerners’ desire for secession. A single economic crisis can have the effect of a military catastrophe, perhaps even more, and distort the current leadership and regime, which means mobilizing popular discontent.

The agreement also provides for the payment of salaries and financial benefits to employees of all military, security and civilian sectors in the country, which poses another challenge to the government. Of course, this challenge can be overcome by strengthening State resources, which the Convention has not forgotten as well; it has been agreed to take the necessary measures to collect and deposit all state revenues, including oil, tax and customs revenues in the Central Bank of Aden, and disbursement in accordance with the budget approved with Yemeni law.

Here, again, comes the role of local authorities, be it at the provincial or district levels. Local authorities play different roles, including analyzing and discussing the financial situation, collection of local and joint revenues, development of resources, addressing any deficiencies as well as encouraging / facilitating investment projects. In this sense, the inefficient performance of local authority officials and the lack of decentralization can increase the challenges facing the government.

Along with local authorities, the Yemeni parliament, or the House of Representatives, plays a vital role in managing state resources. The agreement stipulated that a transparent periodic audit report on state revenues and expenditures should be submitted to parliament for evaluation and monitoring. Blocking reports or opaque reporting has long led to increased corruption and impoverishment of the people. For example, a leaked document from the US Embassy in Yemen reports Hamid al-Ahmar stated smuggling oil from the Aden refinery is one of the most important sources of corruption in the country, and that the Yemen Oil Company deliberately withholds oil refining data from parliament to cover its illegal activities, in which the Yemeni government also colluded.

The Riyadh agreement made no mention of the potential southern participation in the House of Representatives, which represents the state legislature (along with the Shura Council) which, under its powers, exercises the process of drafting laws, voting, approving state policy, and exercising oversight over the work of the executive authority. But, by looking at the previous efforts to resolve the southern issue, it should be noted that the final report on the Southern issue, according to the National Dialogue Conference, gives southerners a 50 per cent share in the House of Representatives, of course after the adoption of the Federal Constitution, which is arguably the most consistent proposal.

However, regardless of the representation of southerners in parliament, the Riyadh agreement contains other provisions that can contribute to transparency and financial and administrative control. Including activating the Central Agency for Control and Accounting, which plays an essential role in the control of public resources and ensure proper management in terms of Economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. It is not under the authority of local authorities. Activating the Central Agency and providing it with the necessary financial and human resources can lead to the development of state resources and improve the performance of the executive branch. In Hadramaut, for example, the Central Agency for Control and Accounting branch has taken steps to be commended despite all the challenges it faces.

The Military and security side:

The Riyadh agreement provides for some provisions that can undoubtedly stop the confrontations that began in August between loyalists of the Southern Transitional Council and the government. These include the return of all forces which were moved towards Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa to their former positions. The collection and transfer of medium and heavy weapons from all military and security forces out of Aden. As well as the transfer of government military forces and military formations of the Transitional Council in Aden outside the province. These steps will reduce friction between the various military and security forces and spare civilians and the already crumbling infrastructure from effects of a probable conflict.

The agreement also foresees unification of the government military forces and the military formations under control of the Transitional Council. This is one of the most sensitive points in the agreement; the Riyadh agreement comes as a result of the armed confrontations between the Southern Transitional Council and its loyal forces, against the legitimate government and its loyal groups, including the Al-Islah party and terrorist groups.

It is not clear enough how the military and security forces in Aden and the South are to be united and reorganized in such a way as to ensure security within the cities and unite against the Houthis, while giving the Transitional Council confidence that they still have “momentum” and leverage that enhances their bargaining power to address the southern issue in the future.

Again, back to the national dialogue document. The final report stipulated that the south should be represented by 50 percent in the army and security. Although not mentioning how these forces will be united,  this provision of the agreement is of paramount importance to save lives and open ways to a unified Yemen. It also reflects the approach of the peaceful and persistent struggle adopted by the southerners for years to achieve their demands.

What happens after the agreement?

The Riyadh agreement will bring great gains to both the legitimate government and the south from many perspectives. For the southerners, it finally gives them the right to participate in future talks on the conflict in Yemen. For the legitimate government, it keeps it functioning safe from violent challenges. It has created alternatives to political violence by allowing southerners to share responsibility to exercise power. One of the most profound democratic achievements is the mutual acceptance of the restrictions on exercise of authority and abandonment of use of force.

 The Riyadh Agreement may not address the fundamental grievances of the South problem, but it remains a historic opportunity for both sides. Therefore, the parties to the agreement, as well as the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, should work towards and supervise the implementation of the agreement. This represents another real challenge in view of the number of conventions, including the document of the Dialogue Conference and even the Constitution itself, which have long remained on paper only.

The real benefit of the agreement will be only through the synchronization of its implementation with the activation of state bodies, including the House of Representatives, the elimination of corruption, and the activation of the powers of local councils at the level of governorates and districts. Activating the powers of local councils will strengthen local governance, which has proven effective and ability to manage change despite all the challenges in the liberated governorates during the recent short period.

*Muneer Binwaber is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He holds a bachelor’s in media (public relations). Binwaber has worked on a number of documentaries and articles about different topics in Yemen. He is interested in issues pertaining to Yemen, with a focus on foreign affairs and culture.

“Originally published  at qposts.com on 6 Nov 2019.  Reprinted with permission.”

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