Reform in Jordan has always been an uneasy path. It is, in most cases, a ludicrous dance consisting of one step forward and three steps backwards, often times in completely unrelated fields. We improve in one area, and suddenly we seem to be doing a lot worse in a whole other area. Even the word reform does not seem to surface until there is a need for it – until there is a call for it. In other words, when things get bad. It is invoked by the government in an effort to put the masses at ease, and it is invoked by the masses to put the government on edge. The former places it in a long-run context, as in “this will take time”, while the latter frames it almost always in a short-run context, as in “we need it now”.
Although the National Agenda proved to be a document that has all but faded from public memory, the country seems to be lost as to what steps to be taken, and in what order. On a macro level, nearly everything needs to be reformed; from the education system to the political system to economic policy. However, on a micro level, there is need to pinpoint what is achievable today and what is achievable tomorrow. There is a need to identify the first steps, and in this, transparency seems to have floated to the top of priorities.
In my opinion, transparency has always been the first step. It is the one policy that has the ability to change the status quo without an enormous effort on the government’s part, especially in a time where reforms generally cost a great deal of money, which we have little of. Transparency, for me, means openness. Transparency means open communications, instead of hindered information. Transparency means public debate, instead of behind-closed-door key decisions. Transparency means ensuring independent governmental bodies retain their independence, instead of having questionable credibility, such as that of the justice system. Transparency means a giant spotlight on corruption in all its forms, as opposed to sweeping it under the rug or attempting to address it quietly. Transparency means informing the public as a prerequisite, as opposed to an afterthought. Transparency means a real environment of accountability, as opposed to haphazard attempts of it. Transparency means providing statistical realities; numbers that say, this is who we are.
It is always interesting to note how the government reacts so hesitantly when it comes to transparency, as if it is oblivious to the age of information it exists in by default. The state in general has always had terrible communication instincts, and that is something it shares with other Arab governments. It fails to realize that in the information age, it is nearly impossible to control what people know anymore. The information is either out there or destined to be one way or another. Its fate is unpredictable and as impossible to plan for as Wikileaks. There is simply no way the state will be able to control the flow of information in the coming few years as it becomes easier for information to be exposed, and trickle down to the average citizen. It is not a matter of how anymore, but a matter of when. This inevitability is largely to blame for many of the communication screw ups that have occurred over the past few years, and will be the source of much angst in the near future.
What the state realizes is that while the first rule of public communication strategies has always been to control the story by releasing the information first. If the perception is that you are hiding something, then you’ve already lost the game. Recently, the government has sought to erode the credibility of the opposition by demanding it provide statistical data to back up its claims that we are worse off today. This is a fair request under ordinary circumstances but the government has failed to realize that it is addressing Jordanians in a Jordanian context; a context in which most of us have been shut off from access to such data, largely controlled by the government itself, and thus we are a people who care little for evidence. Accusations and perceptions will do. This is the environment we live in, and it is an environment created and supported by the system. It is a result of their own creation. With this in mind, the government will have a tough time eroding any credibility from an opposition that builds its case on perceptions rather than data.
The equation is rather simple. Data yields information, information yields knowledge and knowledge is power. In the absence of the aforementioned we are left in a void, free to fill it with our own perceptions, which, with time, become our reality. What we believe to be true becomes the sole truth, because there are no facts to counter it. The Jordanian state, like all other Arab nations, has been content when it comes to nurturing a population that is in the dark, a darkness it controls simply becomes it possesses the channels of information. But today, those channels are being decentralized, and the iron grip it once retained is quickly fading. The people, long left stumbling in the darkness, now control the light switch. The sooner the state realizes this, the better off it will be.
And that is perhaps the worst part about transparency; the failure of the government to see what benefit it can derive from it, when in fact it has just as much to gain from it as the people do. Not only does it save money but it simply put, makes life easier. From a government perspective, being the first to release information means being able to “control” the story – and use the word “control” here as lightly as one can in an age when there is little of it. As opposed to today where the government is constantly on the defensive because it has lost complete control over the flow of information, and subsequently, the story of the day. Transparency adds a dose of credibility to any government, and is the stuff trust is made of; something that has long been lacking between the people and the government.
When it comes to expenditure, people know little of where their money goes. We know next to nothing about the earnings of various officials, including the monarch. Again, the void is filled with speculation, and this is something that is destined to increase rapidly in the near future, and has serious consequences in an environment where there is economic discontent and the poor are feeling poorer. The government has always been quick to blame the media or even the people for their speculations, but filling that void with nothing but speculation has always been our forte in the absence of real information and data. Access to information in Jordan is defined by having to jump through a million hoops to get information which is public, and even that kind of information is limited.
But until the state decides to embrace transparency and establish it as a first step towards serious reform in Jordan, one can only utter these five words with some relief:
Thank God for the Internet.
Communication is so broken, fixing it is truly the secret sauce. If we recreate and rewire the communication needed among us and embrace open, the entire country will live positive results in little time and we’ll be up 50% from where we are today. The remaining 50% is simply sincere hard work.
Transparency …yes I agree with you but before the political class decide to open itself to the population, the population should be ready to hear and understand what the government has to say….is it the case? actually the priority of reforms should be the education system, but since no one has the desire to invest in such a longterm project in a time where resources are very limited, we will always be like the dog who wants to catch his tail….and governments cant risk to be transparent in such situation, they will keep communicating what they think appropriate for us and only to where we can arrive…
Regarding the power of the internet and how it can be detrimental to freedom and strengthen dictatorships just listen to any of Evgeny Morozov’s talks this one would be a good start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hFk6FDrZBc or even better read his book the Net delusion.
Honestly I believe the internet has a chance to strengthen the ideas of freedom and transparency but when 10% of Twitter users “control” 90% of the traffic means that it’s far from a de-centralized medium. That idea of spin on the internet can be used very effectively in the arab world.
Going to the second assumption
“The equation is rather simple. Data yields information, information yields knowledge and knowledge is power. In the absence of the aforementioned we are left in a void, free to fill it with our own perceptions, which, with time, become our reality.”
The equation is simple only if you are looking at with your western spectacles which you got tainted with because you studied there, if that wasn’t the case you would be looking at it from more prominent eastern perspective…. which doesn’t real deal with issues rationally and relies more often than not on their emotions, can’t be bothered with taking time and planning into account and would rather rely on predestination and the will of god. Consequently it’s not the absence of information that would make arabs fall back on conspiracy theories and prefer to live in the world of ideals and ideas rather than the reality at hand. It is a combination of the believe in predestination, the preference of the “second” world over the current one, and the arab character that glorifies and exaggerates the past and heads little to no attention to neither time or the present condition because they are the will of god and they are transient.
So your issue is not as simple as providing transparency… that would be the case if we didn’t have to deal with any of our other baggage… but our real problem is how to get the people to deal with transparency, and what they would do with it. (somehow I’m reminded with how smart Al jazeera was in dealing with their own leak which they handled by spoon feeding the Arabic public the information in it rather than rely on their ability to read, comprehend and understand the material at hand a la wikileaks)
So truly the prospect of reform should seriously start at the level of the individual, a reform of the arab mind. And that can only be achieved by raising the living standards because hungry people can’t afford or don’t have the time to think about anything but food and as long as the population lives from hand to mouth no amount of transparency would be a large enough of an impetus for them to even seek change because in our nature we rather endure hardship eager of our prize in the next life rather than risk taking the unpopular path regardless of whatever it might be due to our risk aversiveness and our entrenchment in tradition.
Just take a look around and tell what. would you provide more information if there is no one to understand and plenty of people who can easily manipulate and twist into a popular mold to achieve their ends over yours? It’s not that i’m defending the status quo, i’m only saying that i don’t trust the masses and their common think.
The main reason for secrecy is the fear that managers have that people will find out how incompetent they are. Most managers are very insecure.
Education for transparency involves getting the public to realise that the country is run by ordinary human beings, with all the usual weaknesses and ignorance, and not by demi-gods. While there are a few people around who really are good at running things, they are very few and far between. Mostly, we have to make do with people who are no better than the rest of us, and are more or less ouyt of their depth.
This is why a democracy needs checks and balances, auditing, term limits and transparency.
The same problem applies everywhere, not just in Jordan.
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We should stop turning in circles! transparency is ofcourse important, but also the will to reform at the highest level ; the economic elite should not govern the country becaue this is giving way to corruption and drain and harm to the economy, society in general and natural resources; Jordan needs a massive political reform which includes free elections; activists should establish real and serious parties which have comprehensive programs..in other words it is time the people elect their government!
@antar: it is time the people elect their government hahahahahaha yah i would like to see hamza mansour prime minister and zaki bani rasheed forigen minister…etc hahahahahaha we will be alaughingstock.
@jamal: you are right, it’s not yet the time.. was dreaming again.
you were not dreaming, you are stupid, just like most palestinians.
antar , read this article:
thanks Jamal, I hope you are happy with your new PM