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Petty corruption: the plague we seek no cure for

May 03,2018 - Last updated at May 03,2018

Google the term and the top search result will say it all: “Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies”. The definition is provided by Transparency International, which explains this type of graft mainly vis-à-vis grand corruption. 

In January this year, chief of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission Mohammad Allaf acknowledged that petty corruption was rampant in Jordan and claimed that grand corruption came to an end. Not so many people agreed with the second part of his statement, especially since he gave no explanations, but all seem to have agreed with the first part. 

The international watchdog had one year earlier reported a rise in petty corruption in Jordan, namely bribery, wasta, and other forms of favouratism, although more recent reports have singled out Jordan and a couple of other Arab countries as making “small but positive steps” to eliminate graft. 

But regardless of official statements and international reports, the phenomenon of bribery, in particular, has become not only visible and almost everywhere, but, more alarmingly, accepted as a fact of life. We are not talking about embezzlement and types of administrative corruption that can be easily detected by the Audit Bureau, which is doing a fairly good job, but undetectable cases when a given citizen who has business with a department that provide public services knows very well that things will not be easy unless he or she pays. Again, we are not referring here to people who seek to bribe an official to twist, or completely ignore, the law to serve their interests, but to ordinary law-abiding citizens who believe that legal or not, they have to pay to get their business done. 

One of hundreds of examples is when you are met at the entrance of a government department by someone, who might be an office boy, telling you that he can get your business done hassle-free if you pay and he does if you do. It goes without saying that the money will be split by the employees concerned just for doing what they get their salaries to do.  

The volume of petty corruption worldwide was estimated in 2011 at around $750 million and has been on the rise, but it remains a small figure and it might sound harmless in a small country like Jordan, especially since the money remains within the national economic cycle, meaning that small corrupt officials will spend the ill-gotten cash in the local market, unlike big fishes who tend to smuggle their illegal fortunes abroad. 

Nevertheless, the harm inherent in this situation is far more dangerous. Corruption in general and petty corruption in particular is prone to undermine the already weak public trust in the entire system and encourage more people to practice it when they have power vested in them somewhere else. 

According to the law governing its mandate, the anti-corruption commission is trusted to conduct “the necessary investigations in order to follow up on any of the corruption allegations, whether according to its discretion or based on information it might receive”. With a budget that is little more than JD2 million a year, the agency is not expected to have this colossal mission accomplished, and we will keep helplessly watching petty corruption evolve into an incurable epidemic. 

 

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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Corruption in Jordan is increasing in many forms not only bribery, commission or so-called petty corruption, due to declining economic, social, cultural and ethical circumstances which require political, economic, social, cultural and educational deep reform that will take a long time to fulfill.

Joined at the hip of the petty corruption plague, there is another brand of unscrupulous widespread practice presents itself in a highly surreptitious manner. It is what I call " Referral commissions syndrome". There is no price tag on the commission because it meant to be a covert one. It may range anywhere from 2% to 20% depending on the number of individuals participating in the pool. It starts with a simple question by an unsuspecting individual like me asking " Do you know any a good plumber, an electrician, a painter, air condition repairman, someone to fix the leaky refrigerator or the oven burner. The listeners or anyone standing by jumps at the questions and start telling me a myriad of stories about how good is the technicians he knows and the hundreds of compliments that he received on his fantastic extraordinary performance. In the scheme of things, it is all a lie and he is doing nothing but plotting to stiff me with one hand and stiff the technician with another hand. It is like a double whammy just put in practice right before your very own eyes. This terrible practice isn't limited to one particular trade or profession, it applies to an almost any type of service or product one needs and asks someone else to help him fetch the product or service.The commission in question is always built into the overall cost to the buyer so he doesn't gripe about paying for the referral fees. Case in point: I recently put up an apartment for sale with a real estate agent, grant you I may have mentioned in front of some people that I was interested in selling my apartment but they were mere acquaintances and not professional sales representatives. Since they were the first ones to hear about it they felt in their mind that they automatically have become entitled to a percentage of the agent's commission. Without belabouring the issue, I met with the agent a few months later and he appeared to be extremely anxious. When I asked about the reason for his anxiety he told me that he did have several prospective buyers for my apartment but he can't sell it under any circumstances unless I keep the transaction totally and completely secretive. I wasn't able to fathom the logic behind his concern and I demanded full transparency because what we are doing is perfectly legal, I'm the sole owner of the said apartment and there is no valid reason for the secrecy. In turn, he took a very long pause of pondering and then he started talking. He told me that there are four other people that approached and exhorted him to give them part of the commission that he will receive after the closing of the apartment sale, and he did all the hard work and these people want a cut for merely hearing either from me or second or even a third party that the apartment will be offered for sale. Furthermore, he told me if he had to split the commission five ways he would end up receiving close to nothing from the sale, and that is why he wants the transaction to remain absolutely secretive.It sounds like it is a fairy tale story but verily the protagonists are still living amongst us and we meet them daily and we interact with them in good faith unknowingly that they are befriending us only to cash in on some kind of service or product that we may need now or at any other future date.I am not sure if there is a solution for this type of scourge.

HARAM!!, THIS IS NOT THE JORDAN THAT I KNOW AND WHAT HAPPEND? IS THERE ANY SOLUTION TO THIS?. I COULD REMEMBER IN THE PAST WHE I WILL TAKE THE AIRPOT TAXI WITH MY LAUGGAGES TO OUR HOUSE AND THE DRIVER REFUSED TO TAKE A PENNEY EXTRA FOR GOOD JOB. ON ONE OCCASSION, I OPENED MY LUGGAGE AND OFFERED SWISS CHOCOLATE THROUGH MY WIFE AND HE STILL REFUSED BUT RATHER INVITED US FOR A COOK-OUT AT HIS HOUSE. THIS IS THE JORDAN THAT I KNOW. SAD!!!

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