Former Minister of Public Works, Sahel al-Majali, has been the on-again, off-again center of a brewing scandal regarding the royal initiative: decent housing for decent living. Today, columnist Jamil Nimri opened the Pandora’s box on the whole issue with some rather interesting findings.
Briefly, the initiative was set to build 100,000 homes for poor Jordanians, offering them at reduced and/or affordable prices, with payments due over a lengthy period of time. The initiative was essentially designed to improve the living standards of poor Jordanians, building a declared 20,000 units every year.
What Nimri depicts is essentially a story of massive corruption, which I doubt will surprise most Jordanians. Majali essentially created a semi-independent entity to be in charge of the whole project, which was called the “National Company for Development and Construction”. This entity would, through contract, be managed by a company that was able to carry out the project and sell the units, whose prices increased dramatically from 15-17 thousands JDs to 35 thousand.
So apparently, the National Company was formed but only two companies bid for the tender: one was a construction company run by the Jordanian military (sigh) and the other was called the “Decent Living Coalition”. The whole bid was only 25 days, which, as Nimri points out was not enough time for any company to properly assess its ability to carry out a project this big.
Now, one of the companies that makes up the “Decent Living Coalition” is actually owned by the Minister himself (double sigh).
To their credit, the Audit Bureau noticed the “discrepancy” and objected to the company’s involvement leading to the head of the Central Tenders Committee issuing a memo inquiring about the issue, but while away on business, the memo was overwritten. In the latest reshuffling of Nader Dahabi’s government, Majali switched portfolios with Alaa Batayneh, Minister of Transport, the latter who shut down the whole formed entity.
Perhaps even more embarrassing is that the salary of the manager for this entity, which did absolutely nothing, was 8,000JDs a month, whiles its running costs were 1 million.
Assuming Nimri’s findings (some of which have already been widely reported) are true, which I would safely assume they are, this fiasco will probably end up being one of the most memorable cases of political corruption in the Kingdom. It is literally the rich and powerful, stealing from the poor, and in the most hideous of ways. But given the country’s political system, this is unlikely to be the last such case. This system is fairly conducive to these happenings.
My hope is that an investigation will be launched and Majali be questioned over his apparent involvement, and if found guilty, resign his post and have the case submitted to the justice system for a trial.
I also hope that this process will be done in a transparent manner for the sake of the public who are essentially the victims here.
But in Jordan, I admit, these are fairly high hopes.