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The inconsistent transparency policy at the anti-corruption commission

Jul 11,2018 - Last updated at Jul 11,2018

For the world's number one anti-graft watchdog to carry the name "Transparency International" has a very good reason. Transparency, after all, is synonymous to integrity, accountability, good governance and sincerity in efforts to combat corruption.   

The UN Convention against Corruption, in its Article 13, stipulates that signatories should ensure that the public has effective access to information, and the Jordan Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission (JIACC), in response to that and the law governing its work, has regularly published information about the cases it refers to the judiciary, to put the public mind at ease that everything is under control. 

But recently, we have seen some inconsistency in the type of information provided to the public, particularly regarding naming the persons and institutions implicated in major corruption cases.  

Last month, JIACC's prosecutors imposed a travel ban and seized movable and immovable assets of Bashar Al Saber, the former director general of the Income and Sales Tax Department, in addition to charging him with misuse of office.

JIACC also took similar measures against Saber’s partner in a tax consultancy office and Abdul Hakim Halawani, owner of Halawani Company, for being involved in the same case.

The suspected tax agency chief allegedly took measures, in agreement with the other suspects, that led to unlawfully reducing the due taxes on the said company from JD6 million to JD1.5 million. We are speaking here about JD4.5 of stolen public money. In the same period, the watchdog placed in custody Mohammad Asfour, a former director of South Amman Tax Department, and another employee for similar charges. The money involved was JD56,000. 

Naming the names of suspects after the charge sheet is issued has had a good impact on the public, which had not accepted previous remarks by JIACC chief that grand corruption in Jordan was not a big problem anymore. (What was he thinking when he said that?). 

Then this week, the watchdog announced that it was taking legal action in several other cases, including one where a public university conceded in 2001 its ownership of a 4,000 dunum plot of land to an IT company for just $3 million, despite the fact that its market value was then estimated at $50 million.

The commission was able to nullify the sale of 3,000 dunums, because the first 1,000 were already registered in the name of the buyer and the transaction could not be reversed. That is very grand, isn’t it? 

But in this case, the commission did not name names, and did not even say whether the university implicated was a state university or listed as a public shareholding company. 

People know exactly which university and which ICT investor are involved in this outrageous deal, and we are speaking here of a huge amount of public funds involved, especially if we take into account that the price of the land must have multiplied after 17 years.

Accepting the rule that suspects in both cases are innocent until proven guilty and the fact that neither the law nor JIACC's strategy makes it mandatory for the agency to identify the inductees publically, we still have the right to question the consistency of JIACC's policy in this regard and expect a clarification. 

 

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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