How To Fight Corruption In Jordan

 It’s fairly interesting to note the number of corruption cases that seem to have made headlines in recent months. This past year in fact has arguably been one of the most corruption-laden years in recent Jordanian history. From Basem Awadallah being accused of human trafficking and his subsequent resignation, to Sahel Majali being involved in dubious behavior regarding the Decent Housing Decent Living – an initiative to offer affordable housing to less fortunate in the country. And if these weren’t high profile enough, they were followed by a stream of embezzlement cases. From missing money at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, to missing money at the Ministry of Agriculture, and more recently, the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM).

Naturally, it is difficult, if not downright impossible to prove most of these case. The ones you can are the ones that likely done by lower level employees who can be used as scapegoats, and tend to be involved in cases of outright stealing, which is relatively easier to prove. The high profile cases are not only impossible to prove – no one even bothers with them. In the case of Awadallah and Majali, for instance, corruption tends to manifest itself in the most intricate of manners that is often difficult to catch it unless you have some understanding of financial structures. Nevertheless, the result is usually a resignation or political marginalization, and then you never hear from them for a long time. At least until things have settled down, and they’re brought in again. How did they get caught in the first place? No, it’s not due to investigative journalism (although the media does play a role) – in my opinion it is usually due to one of two things: the country is just too small to keep secrets that big, and often you’ll find that in these high-profile dealings, someone gets rubbed the wrong way, someone is cut out of a deal, someone holds a grudge, and thus, someone leaks the story.

This is of course just my opinion, and while that usually counts for little, it is however somewhat reflective of public perceptions regarding government corruption. And politics is, after all, all about perceptions.

Enter the Rifai government.

From a so-called Code of Conduct, which is slowly becoming a trend, to various anti-corruption “measures” being taken, we are lead to believe that the government is taking corruption seriously. For anyone who believes any of this, a closer examination of the political landscape is desperately needed. How can any government take corruption seriously simply by signing a document it wrote up itself, and making several speeches? Fighting corruption requires setting up automatic mechanisms that are here to stay, usually in the form of independent entities that have both the power and the authority to deal with corruption no matter who is involved. Be it a minister or an employee.

But we don’t have that, and it doesn’t look like we’re heading in that direction any time soon. In a recent statement, Rifai said something I found quite interesting. It is along the lines of the same recycled language regarding corruption that we’ve heard many times before in Jordan:

“It is the state’s first enemy: it weakens public confidence in government institutions and contradicts equal opportunity and justice, in addition to its disastrous impact on the reputation of the country’s economy and investment environment,”

I find these words interesting simply because public officials tend to always politicize and economize corruption. It’s always about public confidence or investor confidence – there’s always something at stake, something to lose. But no one ever stands up and says you know what, corruption is immoral. The reason corruption rubs people the wrong way is because of the morality that surrounds it. It is that morality, or rather immorality, that manifests in the people being wronged. Instead, we say corruption is bad because it makes us, the government, look bad.

But this is all besides the point. The language being used these days is forceful and serious, but it all boils down to this government not wanting to be attached to the past government’s image, and thus doing their utmost to shift public perceptions. Because politics is, after all, all about perceptions.

However, our problems stem far deeper than a newspaper headline of some corruption case involving a single person. Scapegoats are commonly use to detract attention from the greater problems, the problems that imply, if not insist, that corruption does in fact stem from much deeper issues. When high-ranking government officials are business-minded individuals with private sector mentality – far from the much-needed public servant – there is always a risk. It doesn’t matter if they resign from the board of anything and everything they’ve ever been on, a stint in the public sector offers opportunity, especially if everyone knows they won’t be around for very long. It is like letting loose a hungry child in a candy store and then expecting him to restrain himself by sheer will.

But even this is both a generalization (which is not to say it isn’t a reality) and indeed not the biggest problem.

The bigger problems lie beneath that individual – the system of corruption that sustains their actions and make them possible. From money laundering via “investment opportunities” to bribing members of the security apparatus to a judicial system that is far from independent. There is a network that is alive and well, and most importantly, hidden. It is practically impossible for anyone, be they a minister or an employee, to pull off anything without tapping in to this network. Even citizens are some times exposed to glimpses of this network, some even engage with it from time to time, but those who are a part of it depend almost completely on it. It is a network consisting of many names and faces; some known, others not so much. It is obviously an unofficial network, and I merely call it that due to its interconnected nature.

For journalists, which are supposed to be one of the major channels to fight corruption, it is fairly impossible to prove any of this, and what corruption we do hear about is usually stories that are leaked to the press, and those stories are almost always red herrings – distractions designed to divert our gaze away from the bigger problem. Besides, the media is not set up to hold anyone accountable. It merely reports on what it is told, or what it is allowed to report.

So, with no independent mechanisms of accountability in place, corruption will likely continue to not only exist in Jordan, but thrive. While the Iraq war opened the floodgates for such corruption in Jordan back in 2003 and onwards, it would be folly to think that such opportunities won’t come again.

The solution?

There is little the people can do to combat public sector corruption, and the rare few that might consider it for even a moment will instantly consider their safety first. In all likelihood, most of us will eventually and inevitably be forced to deal and interact with this network, in its smallest form. It will come in the guise of someone asking for a bribe, but that individual will not be alone; he will have the support of the network to which he belongs. These thriving networks of corruption tend to get so big that they eventually self-destruct and collapse, and if left unattended, leave behind fertile ground for other networks to emerge.

This is of course not to say that everyone in the public sector is corrupt. I would argue that the overwhelming majority are not. However, as history has shown, it is usually a minority that are strong enough and interconnected enough and picky enough as to who they allow to become a part of their network – that tend to run the tables.

But again, this sort of corruption can only be solved through a top-down purge and a subsequent establishment of mechanisms of accountability. This is unlikely to happen any time soon.

On a final note, this is quite an inspiring video from TED, where lawyer Shaffi Mather has decided to take on the booming business of corruption in India’s public sector by using social entrepreneurial methods. From what we can gather from his talk, the idea is to establish a business where citizens can accomplish an ordinary task they would otherwise need to bribe someone in government to do, by paying this institution. The idea is that the fee would likely be much cheaper than the bribe, thus not only offering a sense of affordability to the citizen, but also depriving government officials, which would weaken their support system. It is a naturally controversial proposal, and many idealists would likely argue that citizens shouldn’t be paying anyone at all when it comes to getting what their entitled to. However, using corruption-plagued India as the case study, one could also argue that this initiative is meant to address the realities of “what is”, rather than what “should be”.

15 thoughts on “How To Fight Corruption In Jordan

  1. I am afraid to say that a big part of the responsibility is attributed to the public’s attituse towards corruption. They seem to deal differentially and selectively with corruption. If a corruption case is in favor of a segment (group, company, tribe) they will support it but once the same behaviour is against them they will wage verbal war on corruption. How many officials (ministers, secretary generals, etc..) where labelled as “strong”, ‘confident” and ‘successful” by their public suporters when they favour them in jobs and other outcomes? How many officials wee labelled as ‘weak” and “fagile” for being honest? In fact, corrupt officials usually turn out to receive honores and get recycled in new and higher positions.
    Look at journalists. They will write for ages about anti-corruption but once offered an incentive by a corrupt governmental official or a private sector representative they turn a blind eye and even write in favour of those people.
    Who will fight corruption? The answer is an apparatus that is immune from corruption, which I sadly do not find it anywhere in Jordan!

  2. 1- Leadership by Example..A True example that starts at the TOP.
    2- Apply the principle of “من أين لك هذا ”
    3- Build a system that tracks our tax money and the aid.
    4- Unchecked power corrupts, Period. This is a fact. So install a system of checks and balanced, and maybe start working on democratization.

  3. Interesting article Naseem 🙂 It is always good for every a country to have people with opposing views to the government. However, it is unfortunate that you already made up your mind on the new government in such a short period of time. I suppose we never give them the benefit of doubt that they may actually be sincere in fighting corruption. Any measures against corruption in my opinion should never be undermined. At the end of the day, systematic and institutional measures, and third party reviews come with time, and as part of a country’s maturity. How do we compare today .. say with 10 years ago? or 20 years ago?

    I find it interesting how confident are some of the article’s accusations of “the network”, bribes, money laundry, etc. Maybe you can bring forward evidence to the public and readers, and be part of this anti-corruption goal.

    Now coming to your quote from Rifai, you want him to say “let us fight corruption because it is immoral? This is why it should top our agendas?” – Very beautiful and sweet. Let me tell you a story:

    A close acquaintance of ours is a very rich business man running a conglomerate. A CEO of one of his companies left the firm, so he replaced him with a very honest and “moral” person. In a year period, the business man observed a decrease in the company’s revenues. When the new CEO came to report his achievements, he reported spotting and stopping say 300,000 from the company by ex-workers. The businessman’s reaction was that he’d rather have a person making for him 3M and stealing 300,000 than a person making him lose business, while capturing a fraud case :)))) I am smiling because i got carried away with narrating a story on your wall, so i will spare you reflecting this story on senior public figures.

    Bottom line is: when you are at a leadership position in the private or public sector, immorality is defined in different ways; and this is a fact of life.

    Since i am in the story-telling business, I will close with a final story :))) Once the Japanese prime minister was holding a press conference, and he was making a similar “recycled” speech on anti-corruption. So a cynical journalist asked him with a yellow smile: “…and how long do you think it is going to take to overcome corruption?”. So the prime minster answered: “…I think it will take approximately 500 years…this is why we should start today”.

    Ah, let me take a breath 🙂

    Have more faith my friend… 🙂

  4. As a Jordanian citizens we can fight corruption when we build a concrete ground for democracy and the way to do that starts with the election process when voting for the right candidates who put the country’s interest first and that translate into questioning the government representatives and refer the cases to the legal authority which I strongly believe in.
    Till the responsible freedom and democracy are matured in our minds and hearts till that time we will erase corruption from our patriot dictionary

  5. @Batir: you make a valid point. this is why i describe corruption as existing beyond the traditional definition of a single person; a single minister. there is a larger network at foot and many people are a part of it, and many people support it. however, in the long absence of equality for all, it is not farfetched to assume that people will, in light of such circumstance, always favor corruption that favors them.

    @mohanned: i see “min ayna laka hada” become some sort of nationwide advocacy campaign along the lines of what Shaffi is trying to do in India. it could in the form of a website that tracks the earnings of every official, or allows people to report corruption via sms, etc.

    @jamil:

    it is unfortunate that you already made up your mind on the new government in such a short period of time. I suppose we never give them the benefit of doubt that they may actually be sincere in fighting corruption. Any measures against corruption in my opinion should never be undermined.

    well, first off, i am not undermining anyone or anything here. anyone choosing to sing and dance, can feel free to sing and dance. i am merely, as a citizen of this country, attempting to examine the landscape and this is what i see. secondly, i am not judging this specific government. it is way too early to tell what it will achieve and i dont like to judge. however, my current reading of the landscape suggests that little has changed. rhetoric has not changed, promises have not changed, and attitudes have not changed. taking that and contrasting it against a backdrop of past governments that have left their own trails…one can only draw one logical conclusion, which is something i have avoided doing in the above post.

    as part of a country’s maturity. How do we compare today .. say with 10 years ago? or 20 years ago?

    i think that’s an excellent question. i know one’s rational side is to always assume that we are far better off today than we were 10 years ago, in the same manner that due to new technologies and cutting edge science we now live longer than we did 100 years ago – but i do not believe the same can be said when it comes to jordan and corruption. if anything, this new flood of money post-2003 has definitely made the situation worse in Jordan than 10 or 30 years ago.

    I find it interesting how confident are some of the article’s accusations of “the network”, bribes, money laundry, etc. Maybe you can bring forward evidence to the public and readers, and be part of this anti-corruption goal

    as i said in my post, these are typically things that cannot be proven, yet most of us know they exist. and not because of rumors or speculations but because most of us will inevitably and eventually interact with this network on some level sooner or later. i myself have had the displeasure of doing so. and even if we do not interact with it directly, we see others doing it right before our eyes.

    if you want an example where you yourself can observe such things i highly recommend da2erat tasjeel ilaradi…land registration. you will see plenty to write home about.

    Now coming to your quote from Rifai, you want him to say “let us fight corruption because it is immoral? This is why it should top our agendas?”

    I didn’t say that. I said I want someone to acknowledge that it’s just plain wrong. not because of investments and trust in government and other economy 101 theory, but because they are able to recognize that it is wrong in light of all those things. but that’s just a reading of the language. the language at this point does not matter. i merely mentioned it because it was an indication as to how little things have changed or can be expected to change.

    Bottom line is: when you are at a leadership position in the private or public sector, immorality is defined in different ways; and this is a fact of life.

    lool that’s a terrible conclusion to draw. your argument basically boils down to our leadership accepting an “acceptable” level of corruption because in exchange it makes money, rather than having a clean government that makes a lot less? i highly doubt, and i highly hope that anyone who is in a leadership position in this country believes that, and if they do, then we are in big trouble if it has come down to gauging what acceptable dose of corruption we are willing to “Accept”…as if corruption was something with a threshold.

  6. I went to the “Land and Survey Department” few months ago , it was one of the worst experiences i had , as you may know they have “if you have complaints” posters all over the walls asking you to call if you experience inconvenience , Did i call ? no … why ? because i didn’t know if my call will actually help me or simply paint a “Bulls-eye” on my head , their approach had two errors , first it didn’t make it clear who am i talking to (a colleague for the employees or the manager) ,second it exposed my identity making it easier for the employees to take revenge and turn my life into hell of papers and processes .
    To tell the truth i felt safer calling “Amen FM” than calling that number .

    So to fight corruption we need a public , unmoderated , and anonymous medium to post corruption cases detected by anyone. Luckily its easy to make something like that on the Internet nowadays .

    And to prevent embezzlement , the government should post to the public a monthly and detailed balance sheet of the government’s expenses .

  7. I find it inconsistent of the indian guy to have a moral motive actioned through opportunistic scheme. It is a brilliant idea of coercion if used temporarily to push for bottom-up demands of reform. Questioning why capitalism didn’t come up with such initiatives is self defeating since capitalism tends to intervene in what stumbles its progress.

    Comparing what a Japanese official have to say about corruption with a Jordanian official is invalid on all levels as political systems in both countries differ on all levels.

  8. أيها الشعب الكريم ياأهالي ضيعة حلوم العظيمة باسمكم جميع توكلنا على الله واستلمنا زمام الأمور لإنقاذ كم من فساد المختار السابق وأعوانه وأقربائه واضعا نصب عيناي طرد قاطع الطريق واستعادة الكرم المغتصب والسلام عليكم بني وطني وكل إنقلاب وأنتم بخير .

  9. Hello NAS,

    Do you think we will ever see السوسنة السوداء ever? I want to ask if you have plans or if you ever think of having an arabic translation to your posts?

    Yours,

  10. “But again, this sort of corruption can only be solved through a top-down purge and a subsequent establishment of mechanisms of accountability. This is unlikely to happen any time soon.”

    maybe the king himself is in on all that…

    regarding the example you mention of the Indian company, its smart. Its like providing needles to shooters who are guaranteed to be shooting anyway so might as well prevent the spread of disease by giving them clean needles. or like legalizing Marjuana, the money might as well go to good use and not druglords..

  11. Great post. True we got no accountability in Jordan!

    For example, the government claimed yesterdays(we never know anything for sure from this gov) that LG had “stolen” 2.4 million JD by not paying taxes.

    Well now WHO made that possible for LG? 2.4 million can’t be ignored that easily. Not only one person from the gov is needed to do that so I’m guessing a group of officials had helped LG avoid paying those fees.

    Of course, the big questions : Did our government mention that there is an undergoing investigation to determine who’s helped LG do what they did? A big NO!

    Did our precious government say they were taking steps to make sure that what’s happened recently doesn’t occur again?! An even Bigger NOOO!

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate taxes. They scare investors away!

    To make things short, “**** you government”!

  12. Hello Naseem…I wished i saw you response to my comment earlier.

    I am glad that i entertained you with my proposition of the accepted levels of corruption 🙂 Ironically, this is exactly what i was pointing out. I do believe that all governments around the world accept a certain level of corruption and crime, with the intent of focusing on bigger and more important issues. A very simplistic example is the theft of mobile phones, or gas bottles in Jordan. Years back, the police would do all its best in cooperation with the telecom company to catch the thieves. Now, it has become the ACCEPTED level of crime as we do not hear anymore people returning back their stolen mobile phones, or gas bottles :)) i say this because i am a victim of both. Corruption, in my opinion, “which counts for very little”, also have an accepted level….while the government should focus on big corruption cases. And here, i am not suggesting that the government is doing so…i do not know…!!!

    You made a very important statement: “Fighting corruption requires setting up automatic mechanisms that are here to stay, usually in the form of independent entities that have both the power and the authority to deal with corruption no matter who is involved. Be it a minister or an employee”.

    Similar statements have always been music to my ears…the government’s part of the equation is to establish an entity like “Diwan Al-Muhasabeh”, and establish some anti-corruption measures. Clearly, this should not be satisfactory, and from your article, it is not to you. So the second part of the equation is “independent entities”….and here Naseem comes the role of the civil society….the government will not establish those entity for us to police its own work….but rather it is you and me who should establish them…….Unfortunately, my reservation about opposing people to some of the government practices, is that they never managed to to walk the talk. My position is that if a group of people does not like the existing political, social and economic agendas, then they ought to establish a party which can introduce alternatives. If we think that there should be independent anti-corruption bodies, then we ought to establish one. You may say that the government will not allow for it, but i still would not find this an excuse.

    Once again, allow me to praise you for your article although i disagree with the way it handles many aspects. I find this topic very interesting, especially that i work with one of the biggest governmental entities.

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