BY MAYA GAINER AND ALISON DECKER
Maya Gainer is a first-year International Development student and an editor of SAIS Perspectives. She previously worked as a researcher at Princeton University's Innovations for Successful Societies program, which took her to six continents to study governance and service delivery.
Alison Decker is a first-year International Development student and an editor of SAIS Perspectives. Before coming to SAIS, she worked as a communications consultant with the World Food Programme, focusing on digital content to cover the Ebola crisis.
Through the International Development Roundtable Series, Dr. Abdirahman D. Beileh, Finance Minister of Somalia, visited SAIS to discuss the future of economic growth in Somalia: despite the remaining challenges, good governance, economic development, and security are serving as major building blocks of the Somali nation and state-building process. The International Development Roundtable Series is one of the premiere speaking venues for development professionals in the D.C. area. After his talk, we sat down with Dr. Beileh to discuss how his work supports inclusive development in Somalia.
Perspectives: Somalia has regions with various levels of autonomy. How do you ensure development for all?
Dr. Beileh: Somalia is a country of clans. Regions are dominated by clans, and if they don’t agree with state policy, they provide their own services. State governments raise their own revenues, and they use those revenues to finance services like education. It’s important to allow regions to manage their own affairs, especially because they tend to be dominated by certain clans, and there’s a lot of mistrust between them. As the federal government, we handle foreign policy, the military, natural resource, monetary policy--issues that require attention at the national level and create an environment in which state governments can implement their policies.
Perspectives: Your talk stressed the importance of domestic revenue mobilization and eventually covering all of the government’s expenses. How are you balancing fiscal reform with service delivery?
Dr. Beileh: It’s a difficult balance. If everyone is willing to pay taxes, the government can provide services. But since there hasn’t been a government for 27 years, people don’t see why they should pay. So we’re trying to train people on their civic duty, trying to get people to understand that if they want their kids to go to school, they have to pay taxes. We can’t force people to pay taxes--we need them to understand why it’s in their own interests.
Perspectives: What are some of the specific initiatives you have started to implement in order to reduce corruption?
Dr. Beileh: One important thing is to create trust and transparency. I’ve started doing a monthly “Meet Your Minister” program where I visit different places and meet with the media and the public and take questions. We talk to the public about what we earned throughout the month. We’re trying to implement trust, transparency, and good governance. People need to know what we’ve done, how much money we have, and what we’ve used it for.
We also recently started paying everyone who works for the government directly into their bank account. In the past, they were paid through a middleman, like their minister, who would get cash and wouldn’t always give it out to the workers. The system also prevents us from paying ghost workers--if someone doesn’t come to work, we know not to pay into that account. We just introduced the system in April, but it’s been working well and saving money.
Perspectives: You have said that women play a huge role in Somali society and in supporting economic growth. What are the ways that happens, and what policies are you implementing to make Somali society more equitable for women?
Dr. Beileh: Women are the ones who keep the family together in Somalia. They’re not part of the fighting and corruption--they’re taking care of the children, finding food for them, taking them to school, and working to support them, while the men are running around with guns. And this is the first government to include women--we have six female ministers out of 26. The electoral rules also set aside 30% of the seats in parliament for women. Several women can compete for a seat, but only women, and that only started in the last election.
It was an honor to host Dr. Beileh, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to hear his insights. Many thanks to the International Development Program for organizing the Development Roundtable. To learn about other events in the International Development Roundtable Series, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tobin Jones, licensed under Flickr API, via Wikipedia Commons.