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.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine | The Leak Comes To Jordan’s DVD Black Market

The entertainment industry seems all abuzz about the online leaking of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” – the set-to-be blockbuster of the upcoming summer season. The leak has now spread through the Internet in just a matter of hours. In fact, the long-awaited flick was unleashed on the Web on Tuesday. Earlier tonight (Wednesday) I almost passed out when I saw it in downtown Amman in one of the black market DVD shops. At first, I refused to believe that it was a real copy; I have seen movie leaks before, but never this early (one month prior to release), especially with a blockbuster where directors and studios are typically editing to the last minute. Yet, I was assured.

I sat down with a couple of friends and popped in the movie. Sure enough, it was spot on. There’s no doubt that it’s a fake. It’s the real deal. BUT. Something didn’t feel right. The colors were a little faded and even the music was a bit off. About 10 minutes in to the movie a scene appears in which the title character is flying in a hi-tech plane, except what you really see is a rough sketch of a plane in the air (think Microsoft Flight Simulator, the 1995 edition).

Turns out, the leak is a workprint and most of the digital and special effects have not yet been placed. How bad? Well, 15 minutes in to the film, Ryan Reynold’s character, Deadpool, steps off an elevator and runs through a narrow room of machine-gun shooting Haitians, chopping up their bullets with his quick sword work, and as he jumps through the air and comes in for a smooth landing, you see the ropes still attached to Reynold’s back.

So, bottom line, if you’re an X-Man fan and you’ve been waiting to see this film for ages, like I have, this is the moment where you click on the “stop” button, take out the DVD and crack it in half. Don’t ruin the cinematic experience. You can watch this version afterward for humor.

I have to admit, this case has really got me thinking about film piracy. In Jordan, we don’t get the latest films in the cinema and it’s hard to survive as a movie buff. If the latest movies were in cinema I would go more often, but they’re not, so we have to rely on pirated copies. Wolverine is an example of a movie that I would be prepared to watch an early leak, but still go to watch it in cinemas when it comes out. But this latest case just makes me wonder if maybe pirates have gone too far. No true fan would want to watch a watered-down version of Wolverine, or any film really that relies on special effects.

In any case, the main reason I’m writing about this is because it reminded me how bootlegs used to work in Jordan. We used to get a monthly subscription at places like Video House, who rented out VHS and Betamax copies of films. Then the Internet came around and places started selling DVD copies for 1JD. The black market of pirated DVDs flourished in the past 2 to 3 years, and it’s no longer Video House, where the guy behind the counter knows little about movies. The guys who run these businesses watch every flick that comes their way.

The common denominator in this on-going legacy of pirated movies is speed. How quickly can they attain a copy of a movie you really want to watch? Today, it all depends on the Internet and user interaction: tell them what you want and if it’s available, you’ll see it on the shelf the next day.

So last night pretty much marked a milestone in Jordan’s DVD black market, as stores started selling Wolverine withing 24 hours of the leak.

Anyways, Fox had this to say about it’s leaked blockbuster, which might put a dent in its earnings:

“Last night, a stolen, incomplete and early version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was posted illegally on websites. It was without many effects and had missing scenes and temporary sound and music. We immediately contacted the appropriate legal authorities and had it removed. We forensically mark our content so we can identify sources that make it available or download it.

The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts and the last person who committed such a crime is still in jail.

The FBI and the MPAA also are actively investigating this crime. We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning piracy and this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film.”