An interesting editorial in today’s Al Rai highlighted the story of government employee, Mohammad Nsour, who turned down a JD50,000 bribe delivered to him in a suitcase – mafia style. The employee helped authorities in capturing the bribers in the end. But weeks passed after the incident and not a single official called the employee to voice their gratitude [insert favorite reason why, here]. It took an article from Al Rai to illicit a phone call from former prime minister, Nader Dahabi, who actually called the newspaper to tell them that the employee would indeed be rewarded for his noble efforts and that he had assigned the Minister of Justice to facilitate the reward.
More weeks passed by and the government changed. But the returning Minister of Justice did eventually follow through on the promises made by the former prime minister (which is a rare act in Jordan), and sent Mohammad Nsour a cheque worth 200JDs and a thank you note. Actually, with tax, the cheque came out to be 180JDs.
As the editorial takes a rather sarcastic position on the reward and points out that Nsour turned down 50,000JDs, an amount that he would’ve likely been able to keep due to a lack of monitoring and regulation in Jordan that allows for such illegal exchanges of money to take place unchecked [insert favorite reason why, here].
The editorial also calls on amending Civil Service laws to add articles related to rewarding government employees who help authorities uncover such corruption cases, by rewarding them with a quarter or half of the bribe’s amount – in an effort to encourage more civil servants to report similar incidents.
It is an interesting proposal, which might carry some weight in the context of the new government’s attempt to display its ethical side by signing a Code of Ethics document, pledging to uphold the law. As some critics have noted, to what extent such a document – one that comes with no monitoring body or legal value as it cannot be used in a court of law – can impact a minister’s ability to simply do the right thing, is questionable at best. As the head of the Islamic Action Front, Hamzah Mansour noted, these public officials are sworn in on the constitution – the country’s most sacred piece of paper. If that’s not enough to get them to adhere to the law then what good is a code of ethics?
However, Jordan Transparency Forum President Bassem Sakkijha made a more interesting note by pointing out that while the code is a “step in the right direction”, the government’s next step should be to create whistle-blowing laws to protect people who want to report wrongdoing.
Putting these two stories together paints a certain picture.
There is indeed a semi-formal system that has been maintained for quite a long time, which promotes corruption on all levels. When we hear the word “corruption” we tend to think in big and macro terms. We think of multi-million dollar tenders being issued by a minister who is also an owner of one of the company’s bidding for that tender and even, possibly, winning it. Likewise, when we think of accountability we think of that minister not being held accountable for his actions, and instead, we see the system maintaining him by keeping him on board as a minister in another ministry without any judicial review or even public debate.
But corruption, as we all know, is much more prevalent amongst the people, who often deal in the art of wasta; a “petty” form of corruption. Giving away jobs to family members and friends is one example, but there are a million situations where wasta and various forms of “mini” corruption take place. For instance, a friend of mine who runs a Jordanian medical manufacturing company is currently subject to a Ministry of Health “review” of his site, simply because his competitor has paid off officials/employees at the ministry to put pressure on his business and subject him to unmandated regulations.
The point here is that despite these documents that strive to guarantee various rights and codes – be it this recent code of conduct, the constitution itself, or the entire judicial system – there is no system or effective mechanisms in place that reward those who combat corruption and punish those that engage in it. A code of conduct does not render a person incapable of corruption any more than the act of placing one’s hand on a holy book renders them incapable of telling a lie (an act which many people do every day here in Jordan). If we think of corruption on the employee/civil servant level, we have to consider the proper mechanisms that not only allow them to fight corruption, but to feel, encouraged, safe and even proud to do so. It is a sad fact that simply telling people that it is their “duty” to do something is not enough these days; a rewards system is needed to compensate them for their trouble. And while I do not necessarily wholeheartedly agree with the existence of a rewards system in principle, I understand the need for it, especially if an employee has to weigh the costs and benefits of reporting an incident – an equation that often sees costs outweighing the benefits here in Jordan.
Whistle-blowing laws that offer protection for people reporting incidents of corruption are a must, as are independent monitoring bodies that are established and maintained by international standards (and not appointed by the officials themselves, which is sort of like that time parliament investigated itself and found itself not-guilty).
How this will all play out in the new Rifai government remains to be seen, although one positive move was made recently, but again, it remains to be seen.