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Who is at fault?

Oct 14,2017 - Last updated at Oct 14,2017

Jordanians are having a truly critical debate in order to understand why Jordan — and therefore themselves — is now facing an uphill and arduous journey to address some serious economic challenges.

At the core of that debate is how we got here and who is to blame.

If one listens to these discussions, one comes away with the conclusion that there is no real consensus on the true scale of the problem, the causes or on whom to assign blame.

Worryingly, people — in their frustration and concern over what is happening — are lashing out at all levels and in all directions.

First, we have to give the Hani Mulki government credit for something perhaps most people have not pointed out yet.

For the first time we actually know that the situation is difficult and there is no attempt to dress it up to make us think it is better than what it is.

Clearly, this government could have swept this whole situation under the carpet for a few more years — as some governments did before it — and handed the legacy to the next premier and his/her government.

It did not.

The premier also has a reputation of being a no-nonsense man who will actively work to contain corruption and mismanagement of official funds. These two traits reflect a new approach that, I believe, will go a long way in building trust between citizen and government over time.

But since the big question of debate is who is to blame, is it the “official” Jordan or the “people” of Jordan, Jordanians are pointing to serious issues with the performance of the “official” side. 

I use the word “official” to signify all institutions, authorities (executive, legislative and judicial) and individuals that fall under the umbrella of state functions.

The official side is blamed for: allowing corruption and nepotism to thrive, bartering political support for favours and access, scuttling and hindering the maturing process of political parties and other institutions of democracy, an economic policy built on dipping into the people’s savings and income, topped with weak and sometimes non-existent official communication strategies, including a deficiency in the performance of official spin doctors and media outlets.

This oftentimes decades-long malaise appears more noticeable, people argue, because it highlights what they see as the distraction of a dependable and in-touch safety net that would “catch the fall” if one of the three authorities of state slacked in performance.

This is unique to Jordanians who have come to trust and depend on the intervention of the regime or the security apparatus more than they do on governments and parliaments to safeguard the country.

The urgency of out-of-state conditions and pressures, including the real threat of spillover from regional turmoil, has, they believe, forced a situation where these priorities have taken primacy over day-to-day internal governance.

The “people” do not escape unscathed from criticism; some of it is quite harsh and damning. While accepting the “faults” of the official side, there are many who lay blame at the feet of the “people”.

Jordanians are accused of becoming a nationwide network of disparate individuals under the influence of a collective “profiteering” mentality, which in effect sanctions and perpetuates nepotism and corruption if it is to their or their family/tribe’s benefit.

Investors tell alarming stories of how they roll out packages of payments and privileges to local “power brokers” in order to safeguard their investments. They talk of failed investments caused directly by challenges resulting from what they see as the prevalence of the “entitlement mentality”.

The “core value and ethics” package that Jordanians follow may appear “moral, pious and virtuous”, but the truth is that Jordanians, critics say, have become accustomed to undermining the work and achievements of fellow Jordanians, placing their individual interest above that of others, criticising any official effort towards reform and constantly pontificating without pitching in themselves.

Jordanians are also accused of treating gossip and misinformation as truth and spinning criticism without checking facts.

Of course, we have to credit Jordanians, despite all the above criticism, for coming together to collectively stand in the face of external influencers seeking to cause unrest in the country.

We all also have to reflect on what factors contributed to the evolution of “entitlement” mentality and, very importantly in my opinion, the education system that is hugely responsible for devaluing the ethics of hard work, professionalism, equality, citizenship, and its responsibilities and benefits, as well as the importance of rallying around one national cohesive and embracing identity.

The discussion that is taking place is important. Even the exchange of criticism and the transparency in which it is happening — although it sometimes may feel like a chicken and egg discussion — is significant and can be seen as constructive and facilitating our safe exit from the difficult circumstances that we face.

I hope that the government embraces this conversation and helps us move forward not only in resolving the economic situation but in doing away with the blame game.



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