Am I the only one who feels in the lurch regarding this news of 8,000 pardons being issued as a temporary law? This is one of those “announcements” that seems to come out of the blue and is a clear attempt at appeasement given the timing. But like all things related to our government, the announcement was yet another communications blunder that has created more confusion than clarity. In the typical manner we have grown accustomed to, the announcement has been spoon fed to the people via the mainstream media, in fragments. From the pieces most of us have been able to put together in the past few days, we know that this law seems to be flowing from the Monarch, and basically under directions from the King himself, as opposed to it emanating from the Prime Minister (i.e. the actual government).
And since the law is based on a royal directive, in typical fashion, it is being carried out in a cart before the horse manner, where upon the King has given an order, the government has scrambled to announce it as quickly as possible (and on Independence Day no less, just to add that hint of nationalism) and seems to have forgotten to actually do a study. To clarify this point I refer to a recent article stating that the pardon law will include 8,000 people but the government still doesn’t know which cases specifically will be included. While I understand the dynamics related to the King issuing this directive, I am befuddled to discover that this directive did not originate as a result of careful study as to who would be considered in the first place. In other words, even the excecutives of other nations can issue pardons (such as the President of the United States) but even such a directive is announced after careful study, if anything than for the sake of making sure that none of the cases will end up a public relations disaster.
And the last thing the state needs is another public relations disaster related to the judicial branch. The timing of these pardons amidst the disappearance of Khalid Shaheen, who has quickly become a symbol for corruption and social injustice in this country, is simply put, terrible. Does it not go without saying that from a purely PR point of view, it may not be the best idea for the King to announce pardons for 8,000 people at a time when all people are talking about is Shaheen being “on the run”. I mean this isn’t about facts and realities, this is about public perceptions, and if these pardons are nothing but a PR move (which they usually are, otherwise that’s just bad politics) then one would think an assessment of public perceptions would be in order before issuing such a law. No?
In the midst of this confusion, the public, and media, has been left to speculate as to whom will be included in these pardons. We “know” they will not include Shahin, and we “know” they will not include Dagamseh, the Jordanian soldier who shot six Israeli girls over a decade ago. Other than that, it seems to be floating between inmates (those who are actually in prisons) and traffic ticket violators. One Jordan Times article states:
The release of detainees and inmates will save the state nearly JD40 million. However, a senior official noted that the treasury will lose more than JD150 million in expected revenues from traffic tickets and overdue fines on citizens who have failed to pay their financial obligations to the state.
In another piece:
The law stipulates that the pardon be granted to persons involved in criminal offences, misdemeanours, violations and criminal acts committed prior to June 1, 2011, with specific exceptions. Exceptions include persons and accomplices involved in crimes of espionage, national security, narcotics, organised illegal activities, forgery, sexual assaults, abduction, premeditated murder, fraud and human trafficking. Also excluded from the amnesty are persons and accomplices involved in money laundering, terrorism, theft and embezzlement as well as violations to custom duties and tax laws.
Ok, so who’s left?
Aside from this communications blunder and bad timing, two things we’ve grown accustomed to expect from the state, there are more important ramifications to consider. The social consequences.
This is a time when people are demanding social justice. This is, in my opinion, the underlying demand that has been swimming beneath the currents of discontent. Whether people are asking for the corrupt to be held accountable, or for jobs, they are asking for equality, they are asking for social justice, they are asking for accountability – these words are synonymous. Unemployment in Jordan is not merely defined by the people in the context of job creation; it is about leveling the playing field and ensuring that one applicant to a job has just as much of a chance as the next applicant – it is a call to end wasta. It is the same thing with nearly every rational demand people have been making as of late. Social justice means everyone is treated equally, everyone is considered to be equal, everyone has access to the same resources and services equally, and everyone is held accountable in a just and equal fashion. People’s frustration with the Shaheen case, for instance, stems predominantly from the public perception that those who are elite, those who have the money and those who are corrupt, can get away with it because the justice system is governed by a political apparatus that is indistinguishably elite and corrupt.
So while the state seems to be aiming to curry favor amongst the masses, especially those who’s relatives are in prison (or who have apparently failed to pay parking tickets), the long run ramification is, simply put, a continued validation of social injustice that has plagued this country for the longest time. It is a policy that will inherently prolong and proliferate this culture of dependency on the state that has been cultivated by the state.
At a time when the people are asking for social justice and accountability the state is busy formulating a law to re-affirm the perception that already largely exists in people’s minds: the perception that while there is supposedly a system and a rule of law, there is also a parallel structure that allows a select few to be bypass that system and be treated disproportionately. A structure that says the application of accountability by the state is arbitrary.
It is perhaps easy to make assumptions as to how such manifested perceptions will negatively impact the public. However, the most troubling thing about all of this is that state couldn’t possibly care less about that, for as long as people are kept appeased in the short run, the policy must be a winner. The problem with that kind of thinking is quite clear, and it is important that the state be aware of the consequences as they pertain to its own livelihood, or, in other words, why such thinking is bad for it, as opposed to the people. Continuing this policy of appeasement, and thus sustaining that culture of dependency is the boomerang of public policy. It will inevitably come back to haunt the state in one way or another. That same approach, which has been carried out specifically in the past decade, has helped create the social problems we see today. It has contributed to, if not completely shaped, the social discontent that is alive and well today.
Meeting a failed policy of appeasement with more appeasement has not only never worked, it has only served to accumulate and postpone the inevitable.