Editor’s Note: Ali Haji Warsame is a veteran Somali public figure who was the Education Minister of Puntland between 2014 and 2015, a presidential candidate in the federal elections of 2016, a former Puntland presidential candidate in 2014, and a member of the Puntland Focus Group. He is a Certified Public Accountant (USA), and a Certified Global Management Accountant, with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Britain. He worked as an auditor for Abu-Dhabi Audit Authority, a director of the UK-based Falcon Associates, and the CEO of Golis Telecom of Somalia. He is expected to run in the Puntland presidential elections in January 2019. On July 14, 2018, while in Garowe, Puntland, Warsame talked with Wardheernews contributor Hassan M. Abukar. For the purposes of brevity, the following is a condensed version of that in-depth interview.
WardheerNews (WDN): Are you officially running in the Puntland presidential election?
Ali Haji Warsame: It is too early to say. Unlike the federal elections in Mogadishu, Puntland presidential campaigns start very late. What is more important now is to ensure that the elections take place on time (January 8, 2019) fairly and freely with all the necessary arrangements done on consensus.
WDN: Is there any possibility that Puntland President Abdiweli Gaas will postpone the elections?
Warsame: There is always that possibility, but I believe any extension of his term, which is to expire on January 8, 2019, will be unconstitutional. Many Puntlanders, including myself, will fight any attempt to delay the elections.
WDN: Is Puntland ready for one-man, one-vote in 2019?
Warsame: A one-man, one-vote election is not going to happen because the current government led by Professor Gaas failed to honor its commitment to the people of Puntland and the regional state is not ready for that. There are security, constitutional, and administrative problems that hinder such elections taking place. There is no multiparty system, and no electoral council, no census has been done, and the TPEC isn’t actually functioning due to lack of funds and time constraints. For an election like that to happen, there must be a process to follow, and there is none now.
WDN: What is the solution?
Warsame: We have to go back to the old 2014 system for electing president within the constitutional framework. That system had Elders selecting 66 MPs (Members of Parliament) who will in turn elect a president. In its final session, the current parliament has to pass what is called a “constitutional attachment” for the 2019 elections—that is the legal framework that will govern the electoral process for the 2019 to 2023 presidential and legislative terms. Then, the Puntland president has to issue a decree to form a Vetting Committee, in consultation with the parliament, Elders, and the candidates, to tackle the nitty gritty details of the elections. A senior security official, who is trusted by all—including the president, the Elders, parliament, and the candidates—has to be appointed to oversee security matters during the elections. There must be free media accessibility and equal time for all candidates
WDN: What makes you stand out from the crowd?
Warsame: At the moment, President Abdiweli Gaas and I are the only two figures who ran for the last Puntland elections of 2014 among the current field of presidential hopefuls. I have run in both Puntland presidential elections and federal presidential elections. Being the spokesperson of all the candidates in that election, including then-candidate Professor Gaas, I do have such an experience more than anyone else. I also have long history in Puntland, from being former director of Bosaso Port in the 1990s to being the CEO of the largest telecom company in Puntland. I have been lecturing in local universities and providing business advices, financial audits and review services for many big businesses. If I decide to run for the office of the presidency, I can simply reconnect with all these sectors and stakeholders.
WDN: What are your priorities for Puntland?
Warsame: I will work on maintaining a secure, safe, and stable Puntland. My other priorities are providing effective social services, instituting a sound public financial management and a correct budget (something Puntland does not have), restoring trust among citizens in the political system, and installing a functioning, reliable multiparty system for the first time since the founding of Puntland 20 years ago.
WDN: What went wrong with Puntland for the last five years under the leadership of President Gaas, the former economics professor in the U.S.?
Warsame: President Gaas has utterly failed in his own specialty. He did what he knows the best: managing the worst corrupt government in the history of Puntland. He has misappropriated vast sums of money, such as funds Puntland gets from the federal government, aid from international partners, royalties from the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) DP World that runs the Bosaso Port, and, worst of all, President Gaas has illegally printed counterfeit Somali shillings without due process and sold them in the open market. He has literally applied what he once accused of then-President Adde Muse when he published his infamous report in 2007 titled, “Corruption in Puntland and Adde Muse’s Noble-Sounding Nonsense.”
WDN: Can you be specific?
Warsame: For instance, in 2015, Puntland received $3.25 million from the federal government, and, in 2016 about $4.5 million. Oddly, these funds appear in the federal budget records, but they are nowhere to be seen in Puntland’s budget. Where did the money end up? Some Puntland parliamentarians specifically asked President Gaas to account for them, but to no avail.
$15 million royalties from DP World were paid after it was given the right to develop the Bosaso Port—that money ended up in Gaas’ pocket save $3.5 million that were spent on the completion of the Garowe Airport and El-Dahir-Badhan road.
President Gaas’ administration, a one-man show, has been the most corrupt government in Puntland since its formation. It is embarrassing that all this corruption and personal enrichment by Gaas is taking place when Puntland’s public servants and security personnel have not received their salaries for the past 7-9 months.
WDN: If elected as Puntland’s president, how would you deal with the state’s neighbor, Somaliland?
Warsame: In principle, there should not be a war between Puntland and Somaliland. The two regions are partners in business, a free flow of people with long history of family and inter-cultural ties, an intricate telecommunication system, and education. Any tension between the two is definitely lose-lose situation. Having said that, the question begs as to who started the Tukkaraq war? It was President Muse Bihi of Somaliland who started the hostility to settle some domestic issues he was facing. In other words, it is a war from one side.
The expansionist policy of Somaliland has to stop. One of its military leaders has recently declared that it took Somaliland 21 years to expand from Burco to Tukkaraq. Somaliland needs to return to its original 2007 borders. There should be a referendum for the peoples of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn regions to decide their future. These people are mostly Harti and share with their brethren in Puntland familial and cultural ties. The notion that the Dhulbahante were part of the British Protectorate in Somaliland and hence they must be forcibly incorporated in Somaliland is historically incorrect. After the dervish wars, the Dhulbahante were a defeated force by the British Empire and were never part of the six northern tribes that signed protection treaty with the British in Somaliland Protectorate.
WDN: How do you see the Gulf crisis and its impact on Somalia?
Warsame: The Gulf crisis between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand and Qatar on the other hand was the worst international crisis that has immensely impacted on Somalia. Foreign affairs is one of the domains of the federal government. Initially, the position of the federal government to be neutral on the crisis was based on safeguarding Somalia from such negative impact and it was hugely popular. As time passed, the federal government was accused of being pro Qatar. Somalia should have to maintain neutrality in the Gulf crisis (like Kuwait and Oman) and should work closely with the international community to make sure the crisis does not impact on Somalia.
Puntland has every right to have a say in its development. After all, our region is neighbor with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and we have long commercial and brotherly ties with them. The international community should work closely with the concerned parties to ensure that the Gulf crisis does not have a negative impact on Somalia.
WDN: To what extent are Al-Shabaab and ISIS a threat to the security of Puntland?
Warsame: The people in Puntland unanimously view Al-Shabaab and ISIS as the enemy and they are ready to fight these radical groups who espouse a brand of religion that is contrary to Islam and the Sharia. Puntland fought against them vigorously in Gara’ad and Suuj. My assessment is that it is a problem that can be handled with an effective force and Puntland can do that.
WDN: You were once an Education Minister under President Gaas. What are the main educational challenges faced by Puntland?
Warsame: Apart from overall improvement of the educational sector in Puntland at all levels, there were two areas that I started focusing on during my tenure as the Education Minister and I called it “shifting of emphasis.” First, I wanted to see a commission in Puntland to regulate higher education. There is a plethora of universities in Somalia in general and in Puntland in particular that are learning centers in name only. Many of these so-called institutions lack the basics such as existing campuses and libraries. There is an urgent need for a commission to weed out bad, ineffective learning centers and oversee a reliable and effective higher learning environment.
Second, I advocated the establishment of effective technical institutes in Puntland because there are none now. There is an urgent need for institutes on general polytechnic, fishing, agriculture, and veterinary services to mention a few. Puntland is suffering from a skills shortage. Two-thirds of university graduates are unemployed. It is not because there are no jobs; there is no correlation between the market and higher education.
WDN: What do you hope for Puntland?
Warsame: I want to see the election of honest, knowledgeable, and patriotic parliamentarians in 2019, who will in turn elect an effective president and vice president for Puntland.
WDN: Thank you.
Warsame: You are welcome.
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