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Good men are bound by conscience and liberated by accountability

Feb 10,2019 - Last updated at Feb 10,2019

Everyone in the world would love for their country to be famous for something good. Jordanians, for instance, can take pride in that their country has given shelter to probably more refugees per capita than anywhere else in the world.

I admit, however, that in my wildest flights of fancy, I did not imagine that Jordan would make democratic history as the country where protesters seeking reforms ask for dissolving parliament.

You see, last August, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz introduced new rules, making appointment to high government office subject to a process whereby several candidates, nominated by the Civil Service Bureau, would compete and the one who scores highest would get the job.

I confess that I was one of those who were optimistic, despite the government’s best efforts to deprive us of our capacity for hope. I wrote at the time that Razzaz may yet make his mark on Jordan’s future through this measure and others like it.

But sadly, and thanks to help from Parliament, this optimism gave way to disappointment and anger because the government, according to reports, may have been the first to disregard its own rules by appointing four siblings of important parliamentarians in high, not to forget lucrative, government positions.  

In fairness, the reports listed the qualifications of the appointees, which seemed impressive; but were these remarkable CVs the result of wasta (favouritism) that were as effective in securing previous appointments as this one?

The government’s assurances that the procedures of appointment conformed in full with the law, were equally ineffective. Any Jordanian with minimal administrative experience can easily describe to you how procedures can be designed to comply with the letter of the law and still be in abuse of its spirit.

Besides, an integral point of good leadership is that the government’s decisions must not only be legally sound, and visibly so, they must also be ethically sound. I posit that it would be difficult to convince anyone other than the four deputies concerned and their siblings that these appointments were ethically sound.

But one can understand why the government made this mistake. It is not used to being questioned by the people, least of all on how it allocates resources or positions. The notion that it is rude to question the allocation of resources is deeply rooted in our culture, with proverbs such as: “Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure.”

But now times are different. The government has shifted from the patrimonial “no taxation and no representation” model to one where it taxes the people, so it has to accept the new social contract: Taxpayers have the right to know what government does with their tax money. 

The government needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Integrity, transparency and accountability are not mere slogans to mouth off on official occasions, but principles that should guide its behaviour. 

Also, someone should inform parliamentarians that they are there in order to prevent nepotism and abuse of public office, not indulge in these practices.


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