Local Government History
Both North Yemen and South Yemen historically supported decentralization in governance. In the South, political development emphasized devolving public services for efficiency and participation. In the North, municipal elections encouraged political participation at the local level. Since 1995, the united nation of Yemen has reemphasized decentralization. In March 1999, a national conference on decentralization helped provide the impetus for the Yemen Parliament to adopt the Local Authority Law, which presents the present model for national decentralization. Some groups, such as the National Democracy Institute, have criticized the law for not extending popular elections to the positions of governors or general-directors at the provincial level. Additionally, the government lacks the necessary electoral infrastructure to conduct efficient and proper municipal elections. The safeguards for local governments provide few protections against the removal or dissolution of local councils by the central government or governors.
Yemen currently has 21 provincial municipalities and 326 district municipalities. The governorates (muhafazat) are: Abyan, 'Adan, Al Bayda', Al Hudaydah, Al Jawf, Al Mahrah, Al Mahwit, 'Ataq, Dhamar, Hadhramawt, Hajjah, Ibb, Lahij, Ma'rib, Sa'dah, San'a', Ta'izz, Al Daleh, Shabwah, Reemeh and the capital city of Sana'a.
Municipal and Local Government Budgets
The Local Authority Law restructures the distribution of budgetary resources between the local and central government. The law consolidates local authority for planning, development, and administration into one elected body: the municipal council. It also provides for a yearly national conference to be convened by the prime minister to review the status of national decentralization.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
Implementation of the Local Authority Law has been slow due to political opposition, difficulties in demarcating new municipal districts, and a lack of institutional commitment. In order to further develop strategies for decentralization, the Ministry of Local Administration called a conference to discuss the matter in February 2003 and in July 2003 entered into an agreement with the United Nations Development Project to create the Decentralization and Local Development Support Program (DLDSP), to be executed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund. The project will begin work in Taiz and Hadramawt provinces with the goal of implementing decentralization reforms, building the capacity of municipal councils, and alleviating poverty through local development. Foreign aid will be used to expand the project throughout the country over time.
Reform: Fiscal Decentralization
The Local Authority Law seeks to fiscally decentralize the Yemeni government by increasing local budgetary autonomy. Before 1999, fiscal allocations were tightly controlled by the central government, creating delays in local development projects. Most local revenues raised through taxes and fees were transferred to the capital, Sana’a, with virtually all of local budgets coming from fund transfers from the national government. The new law provides that local authorities will keep revenues collected at the local level. Portions of monies collected by the central government will be distributed to municipalities based on population density.
Yemen conducted its first ever elections of the governors of its 21 provinces on May 17, 2008. The governors were elected by 7484 members of local councils. The local councils are at the provincial and district levels. Political parties of the opposition that belong to the "Joint Forum" boycotted these elections because they considered them a regression in democracy since the "General Popular Conference" party (the ruling party) controls local councils as of September 2006 local elections where it won 70% of local councils seats. Final results showed that the ruling party candidates won in 17 provinces, while independents who support the ruling party won in 3 provinces. Elections were not held in Al-Daleh province (in Southern Yemen) due to lack of quorum. Only 79 out of 196 members electoral body in Daleh were present and ready to vote. After the elections, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that the local governance law will be amended soon. The proposed amendments include appointing rather than electing the general secretaries of local councils at the provincial and district levels so that they become representatives of the central authority. The secretary general should not necessarily be a resident of the province or district to which he will be appointed. President Saleh urged the government to set a strategy for a local governance that possesses vast powers as soon as possible.
Local elections were held for the first time across all of Yemen in February 2001 included 26,832 candidates for 6,614 district municipal council seats and over 2,500 candidates for 418 provincial municipal council seats. These officials were elected to serve a transitional term as the first elected municipal representatives in Yemen’s history.