His Majesty King Abdullah paid an incognito visit to the Health Ministry’s Patientsâ€™ Affairs Department on Wednesday to check on services it offers citizens, sources told The Jordan Times. Wearing a black thobe (traditional dress) and a red-and-white kuffiyah, and sporting a black beard, the King arrived at the department, located in Shmeisani behind Le Meridien, at around 10:00am, sat in the waiting area, then obtained an application from a front desk official, one source told The Jordan Times.
As he was waiting for the application, the source said, the disguised King, leaning on a walking cane, talked to those in the waiting area about services offered by the department, which helps cover medical fees, mainly for surgeries, of citizens not covered by any health insurance scheme.
â€œAfter filling in the application, the King queued up to see a doctor,â€ the source added.
Mingling with citizens, the King was discussing procedures at the department with citizens also waiting for their applications until some of them recognised him. While at the department, the King helped a citizen fill up a form, another source said. [source]
Here’s the thing about these visits. While a part of me can only tip my hat in respect to such moves by the King, which have been done a few times in the past decade, another part of me is only reminded the extent to which our policy systems are skewed. First of all, these visits might start losing their appeal simply due to the amount of mainstream publicity they seek out. This is usually fueled by leaked statements from the Royal Court, followed by a local media frenzy with everyone tripping all over themselves for credit and no one stopping for a second to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
This brings me to my point.
These visits are a reminder that some times, things are so bad in Jordan that it actually takes a King to wear a costume and try out some of the common services we are all accustomed to. And this wasn’t even a big deal. The King filled out a form. Imagine having to undergo the lengthy and burdensome process of about 100 other government services in this country, some of which make absolutely no sense at all (why the heck are we still using postage stamps on forms!?). The kind of services, which in their best case scenarios (i.e. you have the money, time and patience), are week-long journeys of frustration.
But more importantly, I’m concerned with the process story that probably no one will talk about.
Let’s face reality for a minute: the outcome of such a visit will likely be a sudden improvement of these public services, with new systems being implemented, and new technology being introduced. And then, a few months or years later, all of that is abandoned in favor of the inevitable return to the status quo. It’s almost elastic.
Because, unfortunately, to a large extent, this is how public policy works in Jordan. One man, one vision, one command, one policy, and then the trickle-down effect – and that’s usually where things go wrong. There are no systems or mechanisms, nothing you can hold anyone accountable to. It is the distance between point A and point B. Success and failure is measured between those two points and no more or less.
There is no process. We pretend there is one, and the state tells us there is. But there isn’t. And anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of government services knows it. In other words, the majority of the country.
And because all of that doesn’t exist, because the traditional mechanisms of a democratic machine are absent, we will continue down the same path. The King will be wearing a costume for years to come. The person you expect to be leading a country is reduced to custodial roles that should, in all honesty, be run by a system – a mechanism. Something that will outlive the King and anyone who is reading this right now. Because that’s what systems are meant to do. Something the people have a direct say in. Because when that machine goes askew, when it breaks down, there is a system that allows the people to have some control over its functioning and maintenance and upkeep, as opposed to having to wait until the King realizes its a problem – or in this case experiences it firsthand – in order for it to be considered an actual problem.
In other words, when it comes to public services in Jordan, for the most part, a tree falling in a forest does not make a sound unless the King is around to hear it.
But again, those mechanisms don’t exist. The connection between the citizen and the public services he or she is entitled to, is non-existent. There are no mechanisms for accountability, thus no incentive to improve, thus no progress.
We, as citizens, have the right to complain but we know nothing will ever improve until the King pays a visit, whether incognito or otherwise. Yes, the entire public sector is one giant suggestion box that no one on the other end reads. And if you think I’m being metaphorical, well…
In most of these places, they don’t even bother with a fresh coat of paint on the walls until they know the King is coming. And if the Royal Court has planned the trip well ahead of time, those facilities might even lay down some grass and water the withering plants. And if you still think I’m being metaphorical…
And that, unfortunately, is how things work in this country.
And will continue to unless some drastic changes are made.