By Maram al-Abassi
The military budget is one of the largest budgetary expenditures of government. Transparency in the Ministry of Defense is low and officials are prohibited from speaking to the press.
Defense officials provided National Yemen with exclusive information on the condition of anonymity.
The Military Treasury first became an important department under Yemen’s ruler, Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, who ruled from 1974 until 1977. The military budget includes expenditures for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defense and all defense and security-related projects.
Who’s in charge?
“The military budget is solely a matter for the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry of Finance has nothing to do with the military budget,” an official at the Ministry of Finance said.
When employees at the Ministry of Defense were asked whether they believed that the Defense Ministry controlled its own budget or if the budget and supervision came from the Ministry of Finance, they proudly said that the budget was controlled and determined by the Ministry of Defense.
The consensus amongst the employees at both ministries is that the Ministry of Finance has no role in determining the military budget, but one high-level Defense Ministry official rejected that assertion.
“The Ministry of Finance provides us with the funds to feed our armies and soldiers—it controls everything,” the official said.
Officials at both ministries contradicted each other, revealing the low level of knowledge and transparency revolving around the military budget.
Ministry of Defense documents from 2004 released by WikiLeaks reveal that the budget is secretive and lacks supervision, according to the ministry itself. These documents reinforce the statements given by the vast majority of defense employees that were granted anonymity for this report. How the military budget is spent is solely at the discretion of the Ministry of Defense, according to the documents.
Incentives, bonuses and rewards to high-level military officials are separate from the military budget.
30 to 40 percent of the National Budget
“Thirty to forty percent of the nation’s budget goes toward defense and security spending, there are no principles being exercised when it comes to the national budget,” economist Ali Awafi said. “A committee of specialists from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Planning should decide the budget, but that’s not what happens.”
An employee in the Ministry of Finance said that “the military budget is a very confidential matter and most of the employees in the Ministry know nothing about it.”
“Most of the money goes to corrupt military figures,” said activist Basher Abdurrahman.
One tactic military leaders resort to in order to extort more money is the reporting of soldiers that don’t exist. Awafi says military leaders exaggerate the number of soldiers under their order so they can collect extra salaries. President Hadi has yet to deny the accusation when it is raised, said Awafi.
Fifty-four thousand soldiers are fraudulently registered in the Republican Guard. More than 100,000 are fraudulently registered in the military as a whole.
“They don’t exist, but their salaries do,” Awafi said.
Without investigations and accountability, the situation is unlikely to change, critics say. Oversight and transparency are key.
No Balance in the Budget
The budget is divided the way it is because of manufactured reasons,” Abdurrahman said. “No reasonable, serious standards are followed when it comes to setting the budget.”
Twenty percent of the national budget goes toward development, Awafi and Abdurrahman each said. Of that 20 percent, a significant amount finds its way to corrupt bureaucrats, Abdurrahman said.
“It is not right to divide the national budget in a way that won’t improve the development and economy of the country,” Basheer said.
“The budget distribution for 2013 is a carbon copy of the past year’s, there’s been no real change.”
According to UNESCO, reallocating 10 percent of Yemen’s military budget to education would be an additional 840,000 children in school.
Prohibited from speaking to press
Requests from National Yemen staff to meet officials and get statements on the record were repeatedly rejected. The Ministry of Defense has been prohibited from speaking to the press since 2004. While officials continued to speak to reporters, they did so anonymously.
Questioning officials is the job of journalists, so that they can inform the citizenry and encourage participation in civil society.
“We are not allowed to speak with the press. When we do so, no names should be given,” one official said.
Despite the budget given to the military, soldiers are largely poor. Soldiers are paid as little as YR 30,000 a month while generals and commanders are paid 50 times more in some cases. A brigade commander’s salary is between YR 1.5-2 million.
More defense spending, no less corruption
The defense budget is high and is likely to continue increasing in the wake of Yemen’s security situation.
Many families depend on the salaries of soldiers. Critics say that this money could be redistributed to these needy families through development projects or other government based jobs. Securing a family’s source of income is essential. What is not essential, many point out, is that they receive that money through military-based income.
While military spending continues to increase, much of the money is allocated for arms.
The Centre for Strategic and International studies report released in 2006 said that the Yemeni military could resolve any internal conflict with its existing weaponry. The war again various Al-Qaeda franchises in the south, however, is a non-conventional war.
The recent military restructuring by President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi has not seen the end of corrupt practices. With more and more money rolling in to help stabilize the country, the temptations of ‘easy money’ with little oversight is great.