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Corruption in Jordan : What price transparency ?

The issue of corruption in Jordan has kept resurfacing in the past few years, whenever the issues of political and economic reforms have been discussed. Corruption was highlighted during the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Dead Sea two weeks ago, and in the Arab Human Development Report 2004 (AHDR), which was released in Amman during April.

His Majesty King Abdallah emphasized the need for reforms in his speech at WEF, saying, “People want to move forward. They want meaningful reforms, they want to see a tangible difference in their lives.” The King’s remarks were interpreted as a rally for the people’s need of good governance and transparency in handling political, economic and social reforms. King Abdallah is giving reform his utmost priority, manifested recently in three major changes: New government, new director of the General Intelligence Department, and revamping the senior staff at the Royal Court.

The London-based Transparency International (TI) ranks Jordan 37 out of 146 countries included in the organization’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), and gave Jordan 5 points out of 10 for the confidence range. The TI reported that it witnessed a fall in Jordan’s corruption compared to the last two years. But Bassem Sakkijha, TI’s representative in Jordan, believes the Kingdom’s rank would drop in TI’s next publication of the CPI in October. He did not specify how much it would drop, but attributed it to “the government’s failure in fulfilling its obligations to enhance the role of good governance and accountability.”

He admitted that Jordan’s position has improved in the last five years, regarding the positive developments that took place following the so-called “Majd Shamayleh” affair and the positive amendments to certain laws. Sakkijha warns, however, that Jordan’s CPI ranking is due to the government’s leniency in handling corruption in the Kingdom.

“TI’s national integrity system did not register any substantial development over the recent months, since the government is still restricting people’s access to information and hindering efforts to implement the Economic Crimes Law. Not to mention the restrictions that decision-makers and lawmakers are enforcing on the civil societies and freedoms of the press in Jordan,” Sakkijha, who is a veteran journalist, told The Star. Although Jordan fares better than other Arab countries in terms of accountability, experts believe the Kingdom still lags behind the desired level of transparency. “Jordan, as a democratic model for the Arab world, remains a good prospect, and a very realizable possibility, but it is not yet a done deal,” said Rami Khouri, a Jordanian journalist and famous critic of corruption in the Arab world. Khouri said that public apathy in Jordan is “a home-grown problem”, saying that the government has granted its citizens “greater rights of speech and assembly, without giving them real power to check government and security excesses.”

Such a fact, he said, “bred widespread complacency and doubt.” According to the AHDR, Jordan is among those Arab countries that “seem content to ratify certain international human rights treaties, but do not go so far as to recognize the role of international mechanisms in making human rights effective.” This concept was proved by a series of surveys conducted by the UNDP that tackled in detail the political, economic and social aspects of corruption in the region. “The features of poor governance in Arab countries and the need for radical reform are once again confirmed,” read the report, which called for reducing the centralized role of the executive authority, in support of the civil societies and municipal councils to expand public freedoms and guarantee fundamental human rights. TI stressed the need to launch public awareness campaigns against the “damage wrought of corruption.”

Such campaigns, said the organization, applies efficient steps to raise people on how to fight corruption and corruptive persons. The AHDR report classified two types of corruption that are prevalent in Arab countries: “Structural” and “Petty”. The former indicates personal abuse of public office and misuse of public finances, while the latter refers to situations where Arab citizens rely on their personal contacts or pay bribes to obtain services that are legitimate and to which they are entitled, or to avert punishment by the authorities.

Although the report did not specify Arab countries individually, it points out Jordan as among the most five Arab nations that handle high rates of favoritism and bribery. The other four were Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine, which, beside Jordan, were surveyed by the report as exemplifying corruption in the region. The AHDR showed that politicians, businessmen and high-ranking officials, including judges, head the list in the spread of corruption in the surveyed countries. “Fighting corruption in Jordan has been a problematic area, given that the anti-corruption unit is located within the General Intelligence Department, which recently has been linked with, or accused of, corruption and influence peddling,” Khouri pointed out.

The anti-corruption unit was established in 2000 to enhance good governance in the public sector, and combat acts of misusing power and public money. Although the unit was supported with a package of legislations, it is still unpopular among Jordanians. This was clear, said Sakkijha, through the retracting freedoms of the press, which he compared to martial laws. “We were surprised with the Higher Media Council’s recent draft law that was proposed to the government, suggesting it would promote professionalism in local media institutions.

This law utterly fails to meet the international standards of professional journalism. It is a kind of unwanted decoration to the current situation,” he added. Sakkijha is preparing for next week’s meeting of the Jordan Transparency Forum, which would assess the points of weakness and strength regarding the media laws and the e-government initiative. “We want to lobby the lawmakers, journalists and civil societies against corruption, and encourage them to bolster our efforts,” he said.

Corruption in Jordan: What price transparency?

Amman,13June2005
Ghassan Joha
The Star


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