Jordan’s Best Kept Secrets

When it comes to working in Jordan, in a field that will often require a great deal of research, getting information is tough. As one management consultant told me recently, you have to “hustle”. The media sector is shackled to the wall with all the access to information laws designed to keep them off the government’s back when it comes to things like accountability. Though these laws and regulations affect an entire ecosystem that needs access to information. From consultants, to researchers, think tanks and NGO’s, the list is endless.

Then there’s the people. Jordanians generally don’t like sharing information. Be they individuals or corporations; everyone likes to keep to themselves. It’s because every Jordanian, no matter what their socioeconomic background, knows that information is power.

If you look at either your average ministry in the public sector, or your average organization in the private sector, employees typically know that what they know is key to their success in the long term, and a sense of job security in the short turn. So often times you’ll have a situation where if an employee goes away on vacation, a void of information is created and everyone has to wait until he or she comes back so they can fill that void. They keep the information of their work, the secrets of all their operations, all to themselves. It could be as simple as knowing where the sugar is kept. If the guys who knows is away then everyone will be drinking bitter tea for a week. Information is never shared. Because if three other people know it then those three other people can easily replace you, and you become a little bit more dispensable (and chances are you probably know you occupy an undeserved position and were never really all that valuable to begin with).

The idea is to protect what you know and use that as a safety net. You become an important part of the machine.

While it’s just one man’s opinion, this is not necessarily a baseless conclusion. How many of us have been to any type of organization, be it in the public or private sector, where we are told to wait or come back another time because the person who “handles that” is not available?

This is the environment researchers or any one whose job involves any degree of research, must survive in. A country where no one likes to share information. Where everyone keeps what they know to themselves.

Forcing us to hustle.

To pull teeth.

To knock some heads together.

And the result is information that is not entirely accurate but is a reflection of the information environment available. Whether it’s a journalist trying to find a story or a researcher analyzing the business environment and economic indicators for a potential foreign investor. Information presented is proportionate to information available.

People and organizations have a right to look after themselves, but there are certain limits. There is a certain responsibility, or even a sense of loyalty to an idea that is larger than the self. People often times forget they are part of a society, and organizations also tend to forget that they too are part of a larger mechanism.

When we start thinking of how we can bring what information we have to the table to benefit that mechanism as a whole, then I think it will in turn, be beneficial to us as individuals.

Like an ecosystem.


  • totally agree! what minimal time I have spent in Jordan and suprisingly with the number of contacts I had at my mercy, every chance i had to get questions answered and end my curiosity of a possiblity in a certain sector was rejected and even worse was the responses of “this is not possible in jordan” and “this doesnt exist and probably never will”
    an oppurinity buried for now but im still hopeful for some people to start losing teeth soon!

  • I’m not sure I completely agree with you on this. In fact, Jordan is the best country I’ve ever lived in where it comes to spreading news and rumours, Jordan is one of the best areas in the world for that.

    The reason you hear “the guy who handles that is not available” is due to employees not actually doing their work so they avoid further discussion by telling you that kind of stuff. He’s out, he went to pray, come back tomorrow.

    As for the whole private organizations unable to function due to someone being absent that’s also due to people unwillingness to either help one another or laziness to claim that they know something and end up owning it on top of their jobs.

    Statistical accuracy depends on a lot of factors, most people in Jordan are conditioned to answer. Especially if the question appears to be formal.

  • I think it all depends on what kind of information you are after, in some cases an offecial is not allowed to give these type of info, in fact most ministries have directives against any one giving any reports or informations to the media unless authorized by the minister, same applies to private companies where the big boss is the one to give out such info.
    As to come back tomorrow, I agree with Qwaider, its all laziness, I have seen gov. departments shutdown for days because one of the geniuses who’s signature have to be on a document is off for a week and no one can substitute for him or her, so its just easier to say come back next week.
    As to Rumors, it takes an average rumor to spread from Aqaba to Ramtha and every place in between, less than 3 hours, we are fast at that.

  • I was slightly involved in the Credit Beaurue Law back in 2003/2004 as I used to work for a subsidy of the Central Bank that was 1 of the 3 licensed companies to practice the service. I remember the law was bounced from the Parliament Lower House as the “intellects” believed that such a service would be a breach of confidentiality, though all banks will be very happy to benefit from such a law. Basically Informed Decision Taking, especially when it comes to Retail Banking where most of Jordanians are on loan/card schemes and all banks have a retail business that exceeds half of their operations. Just like what the “intellects” did with the Journalism Law that was later enforced by HM the king. I wish that he would enforce that one as well.
    As for private businesses from bigger scale, they need to have a PR that all information shall be routed out through to have announcements in line with their policy/image/goals/business protection.
    Moreover, the amount of unlicensed or misclassified business in Jordan is tremendous. Say you want to start a media company, the records of the ministry would show that there are between 500-600 companies starting from “Hand Written Banners” to Web Design. Can the banner company design a web page? yes they can with the license or who cares about the license in the first place, just drop a computer in that office and fire on with web designs.
    Same applies for Plastic Industries with the number of anonymous competitors who got a small mold from Syria and are pressing bottle pins in their garage (who is looking after quality of that product, why is not he being caught through financial/technical monitoring of his buyers at least??) Tourist offices are close to 300 as I remember.. why in the first place to license all that much? they sucked each other dry with price competition leaving some few sharks that happen to be there in some cases due to capital ONLY.. How does ministries and associations deal with that? Increase licensing charges and requirements and let the many hanging almost at breakeven go to hell.
    Central Bank requests many details from banks about transfers (a breakdown: from who? to whom? why? currency? business? sector?… same applies for cross currency transactions, basically no system will provide such details unless was designed originally for that? The data is taken to generate the central bank announcements and articles about balances, payments, foreign reserves, sector monitoring,…. I am not sure if they thoroughly analyze the data given, meaning if banks provide valid data…
    We have many amendments to make to our past, the whole mind set was not supporting informative planning, rather close review to implementations, just the wildest of dreams, and impulsive practice. This left us with many crap in the whole infrastructure (information is considered as such) that the country shall be based on for development.

  • Brilliant!

    This is because we don’t have an institutionalized mentality or work code. Jobs are given to Abu ( ) and um ( ) by Wasta. So they’ll do whatever they could to keep it,knowing that at anytime a more powerful wasta could get someone else in their place, hence they’ll create a system and codes of their own (when the company/org./dept should have a well defined work plans and guides for each employee to follow.

    This is why you always hear something ike, NOW GO TO ABU RA’ED. And yes you are expected to know who Abu Ra’ed is, and God forbid you ask what his title is or what does he do! Just go to abu Ra’ed? What office?
    You would not miss it! Just ask anyone in your way. Another fact is that employees are too lazy (unqualified) to learn from their superiors, and are lost most of the time, that they don’t know what their job description is.

    So how to get things done in such a secretive society? Become friends with them! Whither I’m dealing with Aramex, the customs, the cops or the water company, I befriend the go-to guy/lady and have their cellphones listed! It works like Magic and you get things done…..this is my little secret, just don’t tell anyone!

    PS: How much do you make? What’s your credit card number?

  • qwaider: thats true but again, im not talking about the 7ajjeh and the family history…im talking about collecting raw data, and relevent and current information, numbers, statistics, facts; material that can be used to either write an effective and revealing article or assess certain economic indicators for foreign investors (as examples)

  • “be it in the public or private sector, where we are told to wait or come back another time because the person who “handles that” is not available?”

    OMG! This happened to me 1000000 times while trying to get the vocational licence from the GAM! It is as easy for them to tell you to come next morning as of breathing air! Totally absurd at a time we are trying to attract more investment to this country and at the same time encouraging our youth to start their own projects!

  • True, although some of the “the guy’s not here; come back later” crap is (in most cases) government employees being assholes. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and when you complain to whoever’s in charge, sometimes it’s the guy who was idling by watching you wait is the one who gets up and helps you.

    But in any case, you’re right. Many jobs exist for no reason other than lack of information. Coupled with incompetence and inefficiency, and you have a what constitutes the basic formula for services in Jordan.

  • here, here! i became very frustrated trying to dig things up in jordan. the greatest problem i found was that to secure information, you have to get to know somebody really well– and then it’s really difficult to be objective (especially if the individual wants to see your final report). i was expecting worse in egypt. granted, the statistics here are not as readily available, but i’ve found that my contacts here are much more frank.

  • Actually, statistical accuracy is an issue everywhere, any serious study leaves margins of error for everything.
    The source you receive your information needs to be considered carefully for example
    A CEO of a Jordanian company would gladly boast their profits and assets to a cute chick visiting him in his office asking for information. While he will be reporting different figures to income tax

    There isn’t real hard accountability in Jordan regarding these matters, and bureau such as GID are the only ones who are capable of investigating such fraudulent details about the economy are often too busy with what X said 15 years ago about a non issue to begin with.

    That’s why I think, in Jordan you have a lot of information, their accuracy depends on many factors and statistically, the information delivered should be from valid sources. Business owners and individuals might not see a reason to give the exact figures to support a study.

    But then again, that’s the problem all over the world, you need to go to official public records to get the real thing!

    So your statement:

    Jordanians generally don’t like sharing information. Be they individuals or corporations; everyone likes to keep to themselves. It’s because every Jordanian, no matter what their socioeconomic background, knows that information is power.

    Is false, and baseless. You have not presented a single piece of evidence to this claim. When in fact most observations lead in the other way, it actually point towards Jordanians providing too much information at times. The accuracy of these information, is a whole other matter.

    As for the reason why employees, we talked about that earlier and it was also an incorrect conclusion on your behalf!

  • qwaider: regretfully, arguing with you at times is like trying to separate oil from water. i dont think you quite got or understood the post and perhaps thats because you dont exactly live here or work in the field where this post is most relevant. that being said, while writing it i already figured that only a certain percentage of people would truly feel its relevancy to what they do. AMP, for example, is definitely one of those people.

    thanks though 🙂

  • Despite your ad hominem, I’m not arguing with you. I’m pointing out specifics in your post that are inaccurate and that’s not for any ill intent but rather because I respected your ideas and engaged to maybe clarify.

    But apparently, nothing I say will make you change your mind. I guess I never know what I’m talking about anyway, even if the actual text was not clear enough to convoy what you really intended or of you have gone on a tangent and reached some conclusions that I respectfully contested. So I will drop it.

    Thank you too, sorry to waste your time.

Your Two Piasters: