Sunday, November 19, 2017
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Puntland’s Frankensteinian Ruler

By Ahmed Khalif

The Puntland State of Somalia has earned the titles of ‘The Oldest Federal Member State’ and ‘The Mother of the Federal Republic of Somalia’. And with some semblance of government, it maintained law and order in its territory relative to the southern part of Somalia–albeit to the dutifulness of its peace loving people in the bigger part. However, that peace has vanished now, its territory is on the verge of disintegration, and there are genuine fears that it might have already plodded on to the road to destruction when, in 2014, Abdiwali Ali Gas was elected as its president.

Brief background

The Puntland State of Somalia was established, in August 1998, by politicians and traditional leaders of the northeastern regions (Mudug, Nugaal, Bari, Sool and Sanaag) of Somalia. The main objectives of establishing Puntland State were: keeping the law and order by pooling the manpower and the scarce economic resources of the people in those regions for their collective security–and concurrently spearheading the reconciliation and the reconstruction efforts of the civil war stricken Somalia from its rubbles.

It had kept those regions relatively safe and held its people together in peace. Even more importantly, Puntland took a leadership role in the reconciliation efforts of the war torn Somalia and succeeded in it when its founder and the first president, Abdullahi Yusuf, was elected in 2004 as the president of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. President Yusuf gathered whatever men, money and military matériel that he could grab in Puntland, and succeeded in moving the Transitional Federal Government back into the State House (Villa Somalia) which was in the hands of tribal warlords since the fall of Siyad Barre regime in 1991. It is, thus, believed that Puntland has achieved its main purpose.

Frenzy over the fountain

According to his recently published book  “A Challenging Transition in Somalia: A Story of Personal Courage and Conviction”, Mr. Gas worked only a few months in a government office before becoming a minister, then prime minister for a year in the last 1½ years of Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmed’s presidency. After graduating from the National University, he worked as a junior officer in the taxation department of the Ministry of Finance, in la politique du ventre period of Siyad Barre regime: its waning years when whatever was left of the national institutions were being scavenged over by the government officials. As an economist educated in the West, with embezzlement exposure in the Siyad Barre regime, he brought extreme materialism, morbid self-seeking, into in the Puntland politics.

With a pure economic materialism conception­–a belief that possessions are the most important thing in life and the key to happiness, and that success is measured by the person’s material wealth–Mr. Gas came to power with eye for the jugular vein: the Ministry of Finance of Puntland. It is also worth noting that it was the finance ministry of Somalia where he first experienced in the self-serving government service as a junior officer, even though this time with full authority.

How frequent the Finance Ministry of Puntland has changed hands, and the number of ministers it has attracted at a time in President Gas’ tenure–as shown below will throw light on his interest in that ministry:

In January 2014, Shire H. Farah, former finance minister of President Farole’s administration, was appointed as the Minister of Finance, with Ahmed Y. Salah as his deputy.  Less than one year and half, in June 2015, Abdullahi Sh. Ahmed replaced Mr. Farah; again less than a year and half after, in November 2016, Mohamed Jibril Ateye was appointed deputy minister; and after less than seven months, in June 2017, Mohamud F. Beldaje was appointed as a state minister of finance with Abdisalam Bashir Abdisalam as his deputy. Yet, just a little bit over a month, on July 18th 2017, the whole of Puntland government ministers–both cabinet and state ministers–were forced to resign after a vote of no confidence by the parliament; and the events that followed it made clear that the move was a ruse Mr. Gas wanted to get rid off his minister of finance.

On the day after parliament voted down his ministers, President Gas said on the television that he “welcomed” and “gladly accepted” the decision of parliament; and in the “gladly” way he accepted the fall of his government; Mr. Gas obliquely admitted that he was behind the plot.

Disgrace of the parliament

On the 5th of August, 2017 a member of parliament showed the media $28,000 as his share of corruption money portioned out to every parliament member by president Gas; he also passed to the media pictures of some MPs counting by hand their portions of the bribe money. Two days after, on August 7th 2017, all the recently dismissed ministers, minus noticeably the Minister of Women & Family Affairs–who was given away as a red herring–were reappointed, some of them in their previous ministries while Abdullahi Sa’id Arshe was appointed as a new finance minister.

Even at this time, all the fingers are pointed to the President Gas as the mastermind of the vote of no confidence only to remove the Minister of Finance out of his way to the ravening limited Puntland resources, after the minister allegedly demanded his cut of the bribe money received from UAE for concessions recently given for the Port of Bossasso. The government was voted down by the parliament, in cahoots with the President to bring the minister who dared the president’s wrath to his knees. Thereafter, the parliament unanimously approved all the previously voted down ministers, only after President Gas in his own terms tossed a few juicy bones to the members of parliament. Moreover, the minister who stuck his neck out was removed from the cabinet.

Unashamedly, the Puntland parliament approved all the same ministers that they voted down a few days earlier only after they were paid $28,000.00 each, in front of the people who were entrusted with them their sovereign power. The Puntland parliament didn’t only compromise its integrity as an institution but let the people they represent down in ignominy.

Tacit public approval

More horrifying was the public reaction to the sell-out parliament. Not even a single person, including the traditional leaders, protested against such political contradictions on public display. For silence is taken as a consent, the public tacitly approved the disgraceful conduct of parliament.

Every society, it is said, elect the leaders they deserve. The parliament is a mirror image of the people they represent who put them at their forefront; and the people will surely be judged by the deeds of their representatives. If a donkey peers into mirror, nothing else but the donkey will be reflected.

In Puntland’s case, an old Somali proverb says: “Shaydaan nin hooyadii waayahay, habar shaydaanna wax la jiido waatahay”, which translates, “Satan is he who drags his mother down, but Satan’s mother deserves so to be done unto.”

Frankensteinian ruler

With degrees in economy, Mr. Gas–probably with no moral compass check–was elected in the hope he could advance the economy of Puntland, but instead he devastated it; yet he used the poverty he created as an instrument of repression. He didn’t only mismanage public funds but he misappropriated too. He, in less than no time, rapaciously amassed a large fortune; and according to reliable sources, he bought properties in the USA, Ethiopia, and Zambia.

Obviously, Mr. President didn’t sack all the ministers of finance for extravagances while, personally, he spent upwards of two millions dollars–$2,800.00 for each of 65 MPs, plus commission–to get rid of one finance minister. For sure, he is not foolishly killing a fly with a hummer; but as an experienced economist, he must be personally at a profit.

Mr. Gas takes the advantages of the prevalence of the penurious situation in Puntland–with high unemployment rate, and a government that doesn’t pay the salaries of its personnel as the only major employer; he literally holds a stranglehold on his critics. He exploits the impecuniousness of the traditional chiefs and their deficiencies of knowledge of their rights, responsibilities, and civic obligations. They are beholden to him by the chicken-feeds he gives them from the public coffers. At times, he calls the once well-revered and powerful traditional chiefs who underpinned the Puntland State that he presides over today ‘beggars’.

He revels in and capitalizes on the corruptibility of the parliament, the representatives of the people and the only check and balance mechanism through which such a reckless regime should be kept in check. Such a venal parliament and the grinding poverty which renders people preoccupied with their daily bread problems, gave Mr. Gas free rein to do as he wishes at the expense of the poor people.

Seemingly, in his box, Mr. Gas sees Puntland as his own private state and considers himself as a hero who got his state by his ingenuity. He contemptuously tramples upon all the underpinnings of the Puntland government–the Constitution, the Parliament, the role of the traditional leaders,  the civil rights; he turned on and destroyed the same institutions that put him into power.

Now the economy is in devastation and beyond repair, the security is at its lowest ebb at all times, and the whole state is on the verge of disintegration. Only the hatred of the diaspora members, specifically those with the degrees in the higher education, is an upward trend.  Puntland is harvesting the agony of its creation: Abdiwali A.Gas.

Conclusion:

Five years of a presidential term is a long time for Puntland’s small size government; and it is noticeably even too long when someone with sticky fingers as the incumbent holds the sway. If however Puntland survives after President Gas, it will for sure limp with his effect long after his departure. Thus, the term of the presidency should be amended. A four year term is recommendable, but to avoid a long suffering such as the one Puntland is enduring under the current kleptomaniac president, even a three year term is considerable. However, to be able to put this recommendation into effect, first the disgraced parliament, the defensive wall for the predacious government in Garowe has to be replaced with a dutiful one that can protect the public interest. But more importantly, the return of the taxpayers’ money-guzzling Gas MUST be avoided at any cost.

Ahmed Khalif
Email: ahmedkhalif@yahoo.com


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