Corruption At The Amman Municipality?

The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) and the Audit Bureau said on Tuesday they will review a bureau report which deemed bonuses recently disbursed by GAM as illegal…At the meeting, attended by Amman Mayor Omar Maani, lawmakers questioned the legality of the decision to disburse JD128,000 in bonuses to senior GAM officials.

Defending the decision, Maani said the bonuses were disbursed according to the Municipalities Law and GAM’s financial bylaws. He added that the bonuses were meant to retain employees, particularly after some experienced workers left the municipality for other institutions seeking higher salaries. [source]

In the context of social perceptions, the Greater Amman Municipality seems to top the list when it comes to allegations of corruptions of a Jordanian governmental body. I’m actually surprised to see this piece of news even reported by local media, which has a tradition of keeping any government corruption on the down-lo. There seems to be great difficulty in defining certain things as “corruption” under Maani’s municipality, but some well-established perceptions that have emerged in recent years tend to point out that certain companies and people have benefited from all the Municipal development. Whether those perceptions are true is another story, but once again, there is a problem of transparency.

Even such reports don’t make things clear for the public, and so those perceptions tend to build up.

I wonder how many “senior” employees benefited from these bonuses. Two? Three? Ten? A hundred?

In any case, bonuses and pay raises for senior municipal officials, ministers and members of parliament is incredibly inappropriate at a time when economies are under attack. It’s a time to tighten belts, not go on shopping sprees.

Jordan Curbing The Death Sentence?

It’s a topic that’s recently floated to the surface in Jordanian politics: plans to curb, if not moves towards abolishing, the death sentence in the state security court. Amendments to the penal code are looking to remove capital punishment for all crimes except premeditated murder; in other words, crimes against state security, which include terrorism, espionage, etc. Over the years, the number of crimes eligible for capital punishment have been decreasing but I’m not sure if that has made any impact on the number of people on death row (currently 40). But it is indicative of moves to slowly phase out the punishment, or at least limit it through binding legislation.

The amendments to the code are being proposed by the government and still need to approval from Parliament. The Jordan Times is praising the move as one that is an indication of the government’s desire to “harmonize” itself with “international human rights standards.” I’m not so sure that’s the case. Prison reform still has a long way to go in this country. There are annual reports from various agencies that point to human rights abuses inside the Kingdom’s prisons, with some testimonials detailing torture. Whether these cases are true or not is irrelevant; the perception that they are is what matters.

That being said, if this is an attempt to symbolically show the world that we care about human rights then I am personally all for it. Even window-dressing for the international community is a good first step, specifically if it involves changing legislation as opposed to empty promises. It is a starting point that can actually have a trickle-down effect in the long run, and in the short run, the state isn’t killing people.

Nevertheless, any calls on limiting, if not completely abolishing the death sentence, should go hand in hand with calls to reform the Kingdom’s atrocious prison environment. It should also come hand in hand with the wider scope of judicial reform – many of our problems and issues with the system extend beyond mere legislation and more to do with judges and their judicial discretion.

It’s time for the government to start changing public perceptions, not only globally, but locally as well. Judicial reform as a whole needs to be taken more seriously, and I would argue that it’s probably more pertinent than economic or political reform at this point. Unfortunately, judicial reform is moving much to slow, even by judicial system standards. Change in this field does take time, especially if it’s the kind of proper change that goes through public and transparent channels as opposed to the hundreds of under-the-radar, temporary laws enacted by various governments over the past decade.

In the meantime, this latest piece of news is a good first step – it just shouldn’t be the only one being taken.

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