Searching For Sustainable Public Policies In Jordan

Sometimes, when you have an in-depth conversation with someone about certain issues, there’s a process of talking out loud and in doing so, your scattered thoughts on certain issues congeal and are aggregated to form an actual viewpoint. I enjoyed such a conversation recently with a reader of the Black Iris, and in doing so I realized something I had concluded long ago and figured was worth articulating here.

Students of public policy are required to constantly look at the evolution of policy: from its inception to its formation to its implementation to its evaluation. In Jordan, the first two stages are always the easiest and in their most simplest and apparent form, they generally go something like this: a single party will observe a problem and complain about it, the complaint reaches the King who publicly orders the government to do something about it, the Royal Court handles the technical details privately and orders the government what to do. At this point, if the policy is implemented in the form of say an initiative or program, it is carried out by a single Ministry; if it is in the form of legislation, it will go to Parliament for approval, amendment or rejection.

The scenarios and players will some times differ, but the above scene reflects the ongoings of the larger scale productions.


Now what comes next?

This is where our country tends to run in to a lot of trouble: the ability to review or evaluate a public policy with the objective of actually seeing if there are tangible results. Policy evaluation generally allows the government to conclude whether the problem is being fixed or not. In this way, we are able to have sustainable public policies.

To give an infamous example that is common in Jordan.

The problem of computer illiteracy in Jordanian public schools has been addressed several times over the past few years. There was a famous photo of a public classroom in Jordan where a bunch of computers, still in their boxes, were piled at the back of the room, unopened, untouched, unused, gathering dust. To work backwards, the policy probably went something like this: a party complained that students did not have access to computers, the King ordered the government to do something about it, the government struck a deal with a computer company to provide for the facilities (perhaps spending millions in the process), the company delivered the hardware and the problem was declared solved.


No one thought to perhaps, open the boxes. Or to put it in non-sarcastic terms: no one thought to partner up with an international company such as Microsoft or IBM, perhaps as part of their corporate social responsibility drive, and set up an actual organization whose sole purpose is to implement a nation-wide campaign to go into the schools and teach these kids how to use computers. A program that is not based on a single short-term course, but an actual long-term initiative based on levels, where students continue to advance in computer knowledge as they progress in school years. No one thought to start school competitions to encourage project-based learning or even e-learning.

Another infamous example is energy.

Not only are we a water-stricken nation, but we are energy barren as well. The move towards the nuclear option is a long term goal that everyone knows will probably be inherited by Khaled Toukan’s children’s children. Why are regulations not put into place, implemented, regulated and monitored? In many countries around the world (ironically those that have energy), regulators will often go from home to home to ensure energy compliances are in order. As I’ve argued before, large-scale development projects should have strict guidelines to adhere to when it comes to providing some self-sufficiency with regards to energy.

The list of examples is endless.

Some might argue that the main obstacle to comprehensive public policies is funding. However I am certain that given the amount of money given to Jordan by various countries and organizations, for a variety of projects (some of which are quite wasteful), I would think the state could sell the idea of the bigger concepts like education, energy and health care.

So why do things, as Yeats would put it, fall apart?

Policy implementation and evaluation is so complex and bureaucratic in Jordan (when it is present) that often times we will see a three-tier system of supervision. For instance, Parliamentary committees will have committees that monitor the work of other committees and so on and so forth.

Training is one aspect. How well are government employees trained to carry out on-the-ground policy initiatives. Is their coordination; a large drawing board some place some where? How well are they paid? Are their time frames for consistent return evaluations?

In many cases there is confusion as to who is responsible for what. Often, you’ll see government entities passing the responsibility to one another, like a hot potato no one wants to get caught holding. This results in the policy, or problem itself, falling through the cracks.

The blueprints need to be redrawn and an actual mechanism of policy creation, analysis, implementation and evaluation needs to put into place, inclusive of alternatives and quantitative methodologies. Responsibilities need to be designated. Extensive training needs to be conducted. The public needs to be heavily involved, in the form of a public forum where people can air out their concerns and feedback directly.

The list of solutions is also endless and until a high-level restructuring takes place, public policy in Jordan is like solving the problem of an empty bucket by filling it with water, all the while ignoring the gapping hole at the bottom of the bucket.


  • I’m not sure if this relates exactly, but I was recently involved in an initiative to teach members of the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture to create educational and training videos to help train Iraqi farmers. The US Department of Agriculture funded the purchase of top-notch computers, software, hardware and other goodies for the training, and the Iraqi Ministry hand-picked representatives to come and participate.

    The problem is that some of the people they picked had no experience with computers, whatsoever. Some had never even turned one on! And they had been chosen to come and take place in an 11-day course on producing video, start to finish. Some of them admitted that they were there just to collect the “freebies” to take back to their bosses. To their credit, everyone who participated tried very hard with varying degrees of success.

    But it’s disheartening to think that this is a “solution”. While the amount of training and service exceeded your example of the boxed computers sitting in a dusty classroom corner, I still get the feeling that this brand-new equipment will suffer the same fate once it gets to its final destination.

  • Dave, that is a good example of how a policy failed due to its implementation. what’s worse is that the lack of evaluation will mean that this program will be labeled a success and thus repeated. it’s a matter of delegation and that the problem is being “taken care of”.

  • Nas,,I have pointed out my opinion several times on this blog;and why we failed to implement sustainable policy,it is very clear by now to every body that public at large is detached from the process due to government intransigent and refusal to allow the public to participate to solve it’s own internal and external problems by using the the old broken record “we, the government knows better and you the public has a lot to “grow up” and “develop” before you the public can participate in solving your problems.
    Having said that,there is no way in the world ,that we can solve our problems without looking at ,the lack of democracy ,transparency and above all accountability in our country,we must agree that we need major over whole in our government structure before we can descuss solving our problems as a society,we must demand real vibrant citizenship participation based on consense ,accountability, transparency and above all clean elections and just laws in order to start implementing any policy that is destined to fail and crumble under this current system of governance of a one man show.

  • But isn’t what you are pointing out to a lack of planning rather than evaluation? I mean if well studied and researched plans where put into effect, especially in the areas you mentioned such as education, health and energy, then the implementation would be smoother and more effective. At least that is what the german stereotype of efficiency and sustainability are based on: meticulous planning.

    Of course, such long term plans would require an overhaul in our current budget, which according to a report by the economist Mohammad mansur in the Jordan times a while back (if I recall correctly) spends 70% on government expenses, including paying the salaries of bureaucratic government employees who only work till 2 pm!, while less than 30% is spent on education, healthcare and other basic services combined.

  • Deena:

    I think Dave’s comment provides your answer. Even if the program were well-planned it would be foiled by the people supplied to implement the program.

    I am wondering (beyond hope, perhaps): how difficult would it be to get enough MP’s elected who would actually stand for a real change in how things are done to make a difference?

    Is this totally impossible? Or is it simply difficult? Or are the parliament elections so tied up with tribal/family loyalties that this could never happen? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I want to hope…

Your Two Piasters: