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French Version

Book in review : The wild wonderful world of wasta

"Wasta is becoming a burden, a heavy burden on the wasta seeker, the wasta [granter] and the government," explains the book, Wasta: The declared Secret.

JORDAN (Star) - Reema is a disappointed university graduate forced to withdraw her application so that another applicant can have the newly available position at a public department. The young lady is sad and angry. She is sidelined because her rival has the support of an influential person and is the close friend of the manager.
This is what is termed "wasta"-or favoritism where someone provides help to another at the expense of others. This would not be the first or only time such an incident has taken place in Jordan, but the issue is becoming all the more dire for Jordanians. Wasta has been extensively discussed and debated amongst government officials, the Parliament and in the mass media. None, however, have yet succeeded to give the issue its rightful due.

"Wasta is becoming a burden, a heavy burden on the wasta seeker, the wasta [granter] and the government," explains the book, Wasta: The declared Secret. "The need for wasta increases in direct proportion to the number of [government] rules," it contends.

The 135-page book, published in March 2002 by the Amman-based Arab Archives Institute, was written and edited by Saeda Kilani, the institute's director, and Jordanian columnist Basem Sakijha.

The authors explain that wasta is implemented in a variety of ways. One form is 'nepotism'-a distinct type of corruption where a person favors his or her relative. The book contends the majority of people in Jordan believe wasta's primary motivator is the social pressure brought on by these familial relations.

"People resort to wasta to avoid the waste of time and money with administrative procedures" that inevitably comes with bureaucracy explained the text. Editor's notes from the institute note the publication intends to expose the root cause of the wasta problem. "Wasta, or other forms of nepotism and cronyism, will not be eradicated if people who use them and encourage them are (or will be) in power," the book suggests.

Although any work against wasta must begin with government, the mass media plays an important role. "The government harasses and attacks newspapers that are critical of its policies or that reveals corruption." The establishment of the Higher Media Council in late 2001 appears to be an ineffective method to eradicate this type of behavior according to the authors. Pro-government figures that worked or are still working for the government dominate the council's members. The council only represents public media, with no private media reps, and does not include female journalists. The authors contend such representation will do little to make the change needed to create in the media a wasta watchdog.

"The number of ministers in Jordan since 1921 (when the first Jordanian government was established) until the year 2000 have reached 431 ministers, serving 85 governments with 33 prime ministers including the current Ali Abul Ragheb." The authors suggest these ministers provide a "magical solution," through their title, position and salary which opens doors for friends and families, and creates a wasta network.

Eventually many of these wasta impresarios reject the system as they become appalled by the fact that nepotism is the only method available to get a job or to access certain information.

"Not only are the strategies to fight wasta obscure, but the government also [squirrels away] basic information and uses their instruments to prevent other actors...from participating in the effort," the book reads.

The text goes on to debate the outcomes of last year's conference on wasta and transparency held in Amman. The book termed the conference "paradoxically shrouded with secrecy," calling measures to fight wasta in Jordan "arduous." "Dealing with wasta requires a clear-cut, vivid strategy that puts an end to the contradiction between what people say and what they actually do," contend authors Kilani and Sakijha.

Quotes from selected personalities including former premiers are scattered throughout the text. Former prime minister Taher Masri believes "benevolent wasta exists and is requested to facilitate government procedures." Such comments assert wasta could be used to point out to officials what went wrong in a certain matter so it can be rectified.

"An administration that adopts a policy of openness for all its recruitment and selection decisions will avoid sending the wrong message to staff," says one section of the book. "With openness, the risk of corruption is minimized." Openness, they argue, must be associated with fostered competition and integrity.

The book concludes with a survey on wasta in Jordan, giving an overview of Jordanian stresses and the need to fulfill balanced government performance.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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